The visit of the French Marxist sociologist and philosopher Michael Löwy to Moscow may not have had the resonance of Slavoj Zizek’s visit to Moscow a few months ago but, in many ways, his two talks were of no less interest than Zizek’s. In many ways they gave an insight into problems affecting Russian leftists and Marxists which could be seen as deeper than those insights offered by Zizek. It is a shame, therefore, that his visit was so low key- even though at yesterday’s (Sunday’s) talk at the bookshop Falanster there was a very full house. Zizek’s irony and showmanship was replaced by Löwy’s more mild-mannered approach. Yet Löwy’s Marxism is also of a very specific and radical mould opening up to quasi anarchic and messianic versions and visions and focusing on the ways in which religion and messianism have interacted with Marxism. It is a very strange time to be thinking of Marxism and religious as possible bedfellows in the Russia of 2012 and his lecture on Christian Socialism and Liberation Theology in Latin American yesterday seemed to have been met with some confusion among the audience yesterday. That someone talking of things so distant from the present mindset of Russian left activists, however, is not, potentially, altogether an unproductive thing. Löwy’s contribution could only open up new vistas where previously there had been certainties.
The possibility of Liberation Theology in Russia is a curious one –the idea that there could emerge within Orthodoxy some form of revolutionary messianism seems rare and hardly possible and yet the big unspoken question is still about the unforeseen future consequences of Pussy Riot. With all the furore and confusion surrounding Pussy Riot (whether it be amidst the furious denunciations and persecution from both the Orthodox hierarchy and the Russian state or the rather pietistic and media-saturated global campaign for their release) few questions were ever asked about the influences and the ideology of Pussy Riot. To be fair it seemed to be an incredibly fluid one- taking in radical feminism, situationalism, LGBT as well as actionism – but one of the strange features that few seemed to notice was how in Russia some of the most active defenders of Pussy Riot were religious critics of Orthodoxy. Apart from a number of Orthodox priests (some since excluded from the church) there were also a number of commentators who had hitherto been linked to Orthodoxy such as the culturologist Elena Volkova who became their most strident advocates. At least one member of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyekhina, had also been linked to Orthodox charity organisations. She also appeared as the most radical member of the trio on trial challenging from the very beginning the legitimacy of the kangaroo court and citing not the rather conservative figure of Solzhenitysn (as Tolokonnikova had) but Guy Debord. Merging Situationalism with Orthodoxy may indeed produce in years to come some fascinating new cocktails of Liberation Messianism in Russia itself. After all, some of the most original European thinkers from Pier Paolo Pasolini to Simone Weil as well as the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre have managed to bring together seemingly conflicting ideas within revolutionary new perspectives on liberation.
Löwy’s attention to these movements as well as to the figure of Walter Benjamin makes him quite an unusual (but very productive) Marxist which can only benefit Marxism itself. Marxism gives his thought a new originality of perspective as much as his thought renews the breadth of Marxist though (linking Marxism to movements –whether those of LGBT, feminism, surrealism- which have, hitherto, been considered outside of the realm of Marxism). Nevertheless, he works within an extremely open and productive field of Marxism whose predecessors are many from Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Antonio Gramsci as well as a certain side of Engels. His fascination with the relationship between Messianism and Marxism from an historicist perspective helps us to answer many more questions than we would normally ask and can only bring new perspectives. Not only does a reading of Löwy bring up a widening of perspectives but he also brings an intelligent discourse to some of the most pressing questions for the Russian Left today. His presence and talks in Moscow may have brought forth some radical new questions, angles and ideas that have hitherto been far too neglected.