When Stars Align: A materialist perspective on astrology

By MC Raterman

What does the science of Marxism tell us about astrology? For some communists, Marxism was the endpoint on a journey through New Atheism, skepticism, and vulgar materialism, with an accompanying summary dismissal of astrology. Whether truth or fiction, astrology is doubtless all around us; many find it meaningful to varying degrees, regardless of how much they ‘buy into it’. We ought to be careful not to follow the ideological groove these ways of thinking may have left with us, and get our bearings for a careful treatment of astrology. Just because the scientific worldview discards astrology does not mean Marxists can’t find value of some kind in it.

Often times any mention of ‘science’ is used as a cover for naïve realism; it seems to demand absolute objectivity, and the eviction of the subject. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a philosopher and Marxist, in his essay Eye and Mind wrote that science we most often come into contact with “manipulates things and gives up living in them…it comes face to face with the real world only at rare intervals. It is… [a way of] of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general—as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predestined for our ingenious schemes.” Science as we know it now removes us from the world, seeing it as filled with ‘objects-in-general’ as Merleau-Ponty writes, rather than as a place embedded with objects that we are always relating to. Sciences studies this, that, and the other, but rarely tells us what for.

Marxism, however, understands itself as being a science done by subjects, for the benefit of subjects. It admits a truth that, though true of every science, none other do! Marxism reminds us that our subjectivity enables our objectivity, and vice-versa. Merleau-Ponty continues that we must return “to the site, the soil of the sensible and humanly modified world such as it is in our lives and for our bodies—not that possible body which we may legitimately think of as an information machine but this actual body I call mine.” Merleau-Ponty here emphasizes experience, the most fundamental thing to the subject, and our position as creators of science, and as occupants of the world it studies.

That is all to say that we should not ignore astrology simply because the naïve realist does. The popular classification of astrology as a ‘pseudo-science” is unfair. Very little in the structure and practice of astrology emulates a science, and furthermore, it would be incorrect to see its claims as scientific, or as followers of astrology receiving its claims as scientific. It seems to be, in a way, in a class of its own. Though indeed, many may think astrology to be true, many also find the insights of a poem, the teachings of the Catholic church, and anecdotes from one’s grandma to be true; however one rarely hears detractors claiming a poem, Catholicism, or Grandma’s wisdom to be pseudoscience, even though just as many people may swear by them. None of this is to say that these things are in fact true per se, but that for one reason or another, astrology seems to be held to different standards.

Rather than anything akin to science, astrology is a socially imaginative practice that can generate a kind of knowledge for oneself and for others. When we imagine, we are not invalidating our realities. We are instead editing, reconstructing, and appreciating reality in a unique way. And though imagination is not true, it is certainly real, and can bring us deep and powerful meaning. When one appreciates a great work of fiction, they wield their imagination as read, and participate within the author’s imaginary vision. The characters one identifies with, the themes that speaks to one’s own experience, and stories that can move one profoundly are all imaginary.

By the rules of astrology, I am a Virgo, as I was born in the middle of September. However, it could be said that I am not a Virgo because of the literal planets. Rather, what makes me a Virgo is because I imagine myself to be one. Furthermore, when others engage in this imagining, and interpret my personality and actions through this imaginary lens of the sun sign, they make me a Virgo as well. Many are now engaging with astrology simply because of its social dimension. Membership within the queer community was what initially generated my own interest and participation in astrology. It soon became clear to m that astrology could be a way to recognize myself and others in imagination, and to strengthen our bonds by doing so.

And ultimately, this is what Marxists desire: mutual recognition and meaningful social contact. Of course, astrology has its limits, and many may indeed mishandle it, but that does not mean we ought to treat it in the same way that vulgar materialists do. It’s not a science, but it doesn’t pretend to be, and socialists should acknowledge and celebrate the many ways in which we generate and exchange knowledge with each other. Happy Scorpio Season.

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