[OPE] A small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sun Mar 29 2009 - 10:05:54 EDT

Paul C.,

I do not know of any really good Marxian historiography of christianity, I am sorry. Part of the reason for that, is I suppose that archaeologists, anthropologists and historians have still kept making new findings in the last decades which have considerably altered the scientific interpretation of religious history. Also, the past is reflected through the filter of the present. Of course, nowadays the money and technological know-how available for investigating these things is enormously greater than it ever was before, we are quite simply able to find out much more about what really happened.

Karen Armstrong's books are still quite popular (Armstrong started out as an epileptic Irish catholic nun). Prof. Armstrong states significantly: "I say that religion isn't about believing things. It's about what you do. It's ethical alchemy. It's about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness." The secular meaning of divinity and sacredness refers to the most vulnerable, sensitive, dignified and elated/exalted aspects of human experience, which demand sincere respect and care, in order to be maintained. Hence, it is an ideal domain for manipulative power games by power-brokers seeking to get a grip over the "hearts and minds" of the people.

Obviously any religion which, through various transformations, manages to persist for two thousand years, has very deep roots in human ideas about human nature, about morality, about civilized life, and more generally, about "how to live". By the very fact that it has become so culturally pervasive, and touches virtually every aspect of life, the religion actually contains both good and evil in itself, and contains both progress and regress within itself. Thus, the religious bureaucratic caste gains the role of mediating real social contradictions, in the same way that public servants in a state bureaucracy do, and as a corollary, the revolutionary tendency operates both within and outside religion.

However, you cannot really say that e.g. the original christian ideas, the christian ideas at the zenith of medieval feudalism, and the christian ideas of today are "all the same thing", or, that the christian church has the same relationship to society that it had before. So in a sense, to talk about 2,000 years of christianity is itself a rather "ideological" view.

When I had just started university, Marx Wartofsky's excellent book on Feuerbach (see Google books) had recently been published, and that made a big impact on me, later I also read some other works on Feuerbach which actually revealed much more how strongly he influenced Karl Marx, but also, that Marx's appraisal of religion as a social and spiritual force was very incomplete. A paperback edition of "The Essence of Christianity" by Ludwig Feuerbach has just been published http://www.amazon.com/Essence-Christianity-Ludwig-Feuerbach/dp/110318170X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238324057&sr=1-1

A comprehensive history of christian doctrine is Jaroslav Pelikan's "The Christian Tradition" (in 5 volumes) but obviously a Marxian scholar would want to understand the connection between the evolution of doctrines and what was happening in society, in a less superficial way than e.g. Max Weber. Modern scum-Marxism thinks that religion has been overthrown by the sexual revolution, but that is a very big error of analysis. The gradual disintegration of bourgeois social relations, amidst a growing irrationality of social conditions, actually causes a resurgence of fideist religion, mediating the social contradictions.

Terrell Carver in his biography of Frederick Engels emphasizes Engels's very strong antipathy to christianity from his youth onwards, and he interprets Engels's historical materialism as partly a direct response to "christian bunkum" (it was in fact Engels who wrote most of the first part of The German Ideology, and it was Engels who originally inspired Marx's research in political economy). In reality, Karl Kautsky was very concerned to be very "orthodox" in what he wrote, and thus he based his cautious, simplified and rather boring exposition of Marxist doctrines very closely on what Marx (and especially Engels) themselves had said. Compare for example Engels's piece "On the history of early Christianity" http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894/early-christianity/index.htm to Kautsky's "The origins of christianity". Kautsky was not a communist, he was a Marxist social democrat.

At least from the 1870s the pressure towards the doctrinalisation, reification and catechization of Marx's interpretation of history became increasingly strong, for several reasons:

(1) Marx & Engels did aim to increase their own political influence in the labor movement and socialist movement, and for this they needed a popular ideology or doctrine which people could easily understand and act upon. Both men were quite capable of splendid political rhetoric and, occasionally, of making sweeping generalisations

(2) Attacks by critics, academics and competitors in the socialist movement also forced them to systematise their ideas; generalisations from experience and research demanded a more explicit coherent theoretical framework.

(3) Christian religious and moral doctrine was still very influential among the working classes, who mostly lacked access to a scientific education, and this created the political need or pressure to articulate a complete alternative belief system or scientific world outlook. Thus, Engels sought to distinguish between religious-utopian and practical-scientific socialism.

These three factors are the original main sources of the tension between science and ideology in "Marxism", although some commentators see the root of the problem in Marx's own intellectual neglect of the theory of rational ethics (although he had studied jurisprudence).

Engels, who was the first great "Marxist systematiser", tried to take a nuanced approach in his writings, and tried to popularise the new materialist approach without vulgarisation. In 1880, about three years before Marx died, Engels indicated however that he accepted the usage of the doctrinal term "historical materialism" being used by German academics and workingclass socialists. Recalling the early days of the new interpretation of history, he stated:

"We, at that time, were all materialists, or, at least, very advanced free-thinkers, and to us it appeared inconceivable that almost all educated people in England should believe in all sorts of impossible miracles, and that even geologists like Buckland and Mantell should contort the facts of their science so as not to clash too much with the myths of the book of Genesis; while, in order to find people who dared to use their own intellectual faculties with regard to religious matters, you had to go amongst the uneducated, the "great unwashed", as they were then called, the working people, especially the Owenite Socialists". (Preface to the English edition of his pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).

In a foreword to his essay Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886), three years after Marx's death, Engels claimed confidently that "In the meantime, the Marxist world outlook has found representatives far beyond the boundaries of Germany and Europe and in all the literary languages of the world."

In his mature years, Engels speculated about a new cosmology or ontology which would show the principles of dialectics to be universal features of reality. He also drafted an article on The part played by labour in the transition from Ape to Man (1876), apparently a theory of anthropogenesis which would integrate the insights of Marx and Charles Darwin. (This is discussed by Charles Woolfson in The Labour Theory of Culture: a Re-examination of Engels Theory of Human Origins). Engels never published those things however, presumably because he was unsure of what effect that would have, and whether it would be perceived as scientifically credible.

Anyway Marxism was born, and "historical materialism" became a distinct philosophical doctrine, subsequently elaborated and systematised by intellectuals like Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Georgi Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin and Nikolai Bukharin. Even so, up to the 1930s many of Marx's writings were actually still completely unknown, even to the most important Marxist leaders who were defining what Marxism was, and in reality most self-styled Marxists had not read beyond Capital Vol. 1. Isaac Deutscher provides a humorous anecdote about the knowledge of Marx in that era:

"Capital is a tough nut to crack, opined Ignacy Daszynski, one of the most wellknown socialist "people's tribunes" around the turn of the 20th century, but anyhow he had not read it. But, he said, Karl Kautsky had read it, and written a popular summary of the first volume. He hadn't read this either, but Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, the party theoretician, had read Kautsky's pamphlet and summarised it. He also had not read Kelles-Krauz's text, but the financial expert of the party, Hermann Diamand, had read it and had told him, i.e. Daszynski, everything about it".

In a 1913 article, Lenin wrote: "The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/mar/x01.htm

That wasn't true, but what was true, was that Lenin needed such a doctrine himself for his fight against the Czarist autocracy.

After Lenin's death in 1924, Marxism was transformed into a Marxism-Leninism, a public service managerial ideology. Lenin, like Trotsky, had not been especially popular in his own party, he repeatedly took positions completely at odds with majority opinion and even threatened to resign, but he could do that precisely because of his tremendous moral authority, and the emerging Stalinist political class sought to cloak itself precisely in the mantle of this moral authority, which seemed to prove its political ancestry in the victory of the revolution - even although, sociologically speaking, the new elite had nothing much to do with the original bolshevik revolution. Lenin had explicitly rejected the label "Leninism" but it followed logically from his own ideological method, which caricatured the thought and practice of others as "isms".

>From the deification of Lenin, the development of Maoism (Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought) in China, which some regard as the "true doctrine" and others as a "sterile state religion", was a relatively small ideological step. Marxism was now fused with peasant religion, and had nothing much to do anymore with the consciousness of the skilled working class in the West.

In the early years of the 20th century, historical materialism had often been treated by Western socialist writers as interchangeable with dialectical materialism, a formulation never used by Marx and Engels however. But according to many Marxists influenced by Soviet Marxism, historical materialism is a specifically "sociological method", while dialectical materialism refers to a more general, abstract, philosophy or cosmology.

The Soviet orthodox Marxist tradition, influential for half a century, based itself on Joseph Stalin's pamphlet "Dialectical and Historical materialism", and on textbooks issued by the "Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union", which grew out of Riazanov's Marx-Engels Institute (Riazanov himself was executed in 1938).

In the 1920s, Antonov-Ovseyenko reports, Stalin had hired an academic consultant (at the expense of the taxpayer), to tutor him about Hegelian dialectics. After the lessons were over, the teacher disappeared without trace, presumably executed. It has been debated whether Stalin actually wrote his pamphlet himself, but most likely I think he did write it himself. With that pamphlet, Marx's interpretation of history had finally been completely falsified, and Marxism never recovered from that, the same lies were endlessly repeated for 70 years thereafter.

In the 1960s and 1970s, not just New Left intellectuals but also old communist hacks like Althusser however grew dissatisfied with the sterile, conservative rhetoric and dull ritual of official Marxism-Leninism, and they aimed to infuse the old Stalinist belief system with some new ideas drawn from a grab-bag of haute-bourgeois social thought, for example, the structural-functionalism of Parsons, Merton and Levi-Strauss, Systems Theory, post-Keynesian economics, Freudian psychoanalysis, catholicism, theoretical physics etc. as well as various recycled Marxists like Trotsky, Mao, Gramsci, etc. (edited and decontextualized beyond recognition).

The Marxist students of the 1970s hailed these Western Marxist "innovations", but being untrained in the real history behind ideas, they did not realize this so-called "Marxism" was merely a souped-up, leftist conservative version, a pale reflection of the metaphors that had recently been popular among elite academics. The connection with progressive workingclass radicalism was practically nil, indeed such radicalism was a threat to their own sensitivities.

Engels wrote that "Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces". This is applicable to religions, but the same thing happened to Marxism.


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Received on Sun Mar 29 10:15:41 2009

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