Posts tagged with: marxism

The Economist marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by observing that there was “so much gained, so much to lose.” As the world celebrates the collapse of communism, who would have imagined that in less than one generation we would witness a resurgence of socialism throughout Latin America and even hear the word socialist being used to describe policies of the United States?

We relegated socialism to the “dustbin of history,” but socialism never actually died and in many ways it has actually gained influence. This may sound reactionary, even McCarthyist—but only until we understand socialism the way socialists understand it.

Yes, socialist economic ideas went out of fashion, but socialism has always been more than just economics. We tend to equate socialism with communism, Marxist revolutionaries, and state ownership of industry. But socialism is a much broader vision of the person, society, equality, and what it means to be free.

Karl Marx’s collaborator, Friedrich Engels, saw three major obstacles to the socialist vision: private property, religion, and “this present form of marriage.” Also central to socialist thought is a secular and materialist vision of the world that espouses relativism, sees everything politically, and locates genuine community in the state and not in families, churches or voluntary organizations.

The fall of communism and two decades of globalization did not extinguish socialist hopes. The tactics changed, but the goals remained. Proponents of socialism traded in revolution for the gradualism of the Fabian socialists who encouraged use of democratic institutions to achieve socialist goals. They replaced political radicals like Lenin and Castro with the cultural Marxism of Theodor Adorno or Antonio Gramsci, who called for a “long march through the institutions” of Western culture.

This is the pedigree of Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, and the various sixties revolutionaries who now inhabit positions of cultural influence throughout the West. We are seeing the fruit of their efforts: socialist visions of family, religion, art, community, commerce, and politics pervade the culture.

I am not suggesting that Americans or Europeans live in socialist states. That would trivialize the suffering of those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. Rather, I am suggesting that socialist ideas have transformed the way many of us think about a host of important things. Ideas considered radical only 75 years ago are now considered quite normal and even respectable.

Look, for instance, at co-habitation rates and the number of people who do not believe in marriage or view it as a “bourgeois” institution. Directly or indirectly, they got these ideas from people like Engels and Adorno, who argued that “the institution of marriage is raised… [on] barbaric sexual oppression, which tendentially compels the man to take lifelong responsibility for someone with whom he once took pleasure in sleeping with….” The same-sex marriage movement and hostility to the traditional family follow Engels goal to destroy “this present form of marriage.”

In other realms, we see increasing secularization, religion being equated with intolerance and decreasing religious practice. Look at the common acceptance of ethical and cultural relativism and the fear of making truth claims lest one be labeled an extremist. Look at the unquestioned supremacy of materialist and Darwinist thought that dominates the scientific community, or the political correctness that pervades language. Look at our public school system, increasingly focused on indoctrination rather than education. We joke that the universities are the last bastion of Marxism. But who do we think writes the textbooks that teach primary and high school students? The “long march through the institutions” has been more successful than its early advocates could have dreamed.

Of course it would be simplistic to blame socialism for all that ails the West. But socialism has been the principal vehicle of many of these ideas, carrying them into the mainstream.

So how is it that, after such dramatic failures, socialism continues to allure? Perhaps because, as future pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, wrote, the Marxist dream of radical liberation still captures the modern imagination.

It’s a dream that will always betray, because sustained liberty requires a certain moral culture: one that respects truth and conforms to it; one that recognizes the inherent dignity and spiritual nature of the person; one that respects the role of the family and encourages a rich and varied civil society; one that acknowledges that culture and religion are more important than politics; one that respects rule of law over the arbitrary rule of men and rejects utopian delusions; one that recognizes that the difference between right and wrong is not determined by majority, consensus or fashion; and, finally, one that recognizes that the ultimate source of liberty is God and not the state.

The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe was one of the great victories for human freedom. But while the East suffered untold misery, perhaps it was too easy a victory for us in the West. We were lulled into thinking that socialism had been discredited, had lost its allure—that capitalist economies and abundant goods were sufficient to satisfy human desires. Perhaps we should have listened more closely to those like John Paul II or Alexander Solzhenitsyn who warned us about an empty materialism, an insidious relativism, and a vitiated culture.

The challenges of socialist thought are real. But there is hope. There is hope in the resurgent resistance to the unprecedented growth of government. There is hope in the millions of families who work hard and in the thousands who make sacrifices for freedom every day. This week we celebrate the victory of freedom and the collapse of applied socialism. Let us not come to a point where we look back with regret that we forfeited such a precious gift.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
By

From “The Origin of Russian Communism” by Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev (published by Geoffrey Bles, 1937):

Marxism is not only a doctrine of historical and economic materialism, concerned with the complete dependence of man on economics, it is also a doctrine of deliverance, of the messianic vocation of the proletariat, of the future perfect society in which man will not be dependent on economics, of the power and victory of man over the irrational forces of nature and society. There is the soul of Marxism, not in its economic determinism.

In a capitalist society man is completely determined, and that refers to the past. The complete dependence of man upon economics can be explained as a sin of the past. But the future is otherwise; man can be freed from slavery. And the active agent which frees humanity from slavery and establishes the best life, is the proletariat.

To it are ascribed messianic attributes, to it are transferred the attributes of the chosen people of God; it is the new Israel. This is a secularization of the ancient Hebrew messianic consciousness. The lever with which it will be possible to turn the world upside down has been found. And there Marx’s materialism turns into extreme idealism.

(more…)

My commentary on Western Europe’s fascination with Marxist symbolism was published today on the Web site of the Acton Institute. Excerpt:

Marxism, we’re often told, is dead. While Communism as a system of authoritarian power still exists in countries like China, Marxism’s contemporary hold over people’s minds, many claim, is nothing compared to its glory days between the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in October 1917 and the Berlin Wall’s fall twenty years ago.

In many respects, such observations are true. But in other senses, they are not. We need only look at Western Europe—the place where Marxist thought first emerged and took root. One trivial, albeit disturbing sign is many young West Europeans’ willingness to wear t-shirts emblazoned with the Communist hammer and sickle or Che Guevara images. If you want confirmation of this, just take a stroll through downtown Amsterdam, Stockholm, or Rome.

No doubt, in many cases the t-shirt images are simply reflections of youthful rebelliousness. But it’s difficult to refrain from asking wearers of such clothing whether they also possess a t-shirt inscribed with the Nazi swastika. They would surely be deeply offended at such a suggestion. But their willingness to parade the hammer and sickle reflects either historical ignorance or a failure to accept that it is as much a symbol of terroristic criminal regimes as the swastika: just ask any survivors of Stalin’s Gulag, Vietnam’s “re-education” camps, or the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields.

Then there is the persistent grip of Marxist-inspired mythology on Western Europe’s historical imagination. A good example is Karl Marx’s presentation of nineteenth-century capitalism as a period in which a small group became wealthy and millions were impoverished. This remains an article of faith for the European left and some on the European right.

Read “Marxism’s Last (and First) Stronghold,” on the main Acton Institute Web site.

As the squabbling continues over the at-times contradictory policy-suggestions contained in Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, there’s a risk that the deeper – and more important – theological themes of the text will be overlooked. It’s also possible some of the wider implications for the Catholic Church’s own self-understanding and the way it consequently approaches questions of justice will be neglected.

For historical perspective, we should recall that before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council there was – and remains – an intense theological debate within the Catholic Church about, firstly, how it renews itself in order to spread the Good News contained in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ more efficaciously; and secondly, what this means for the Church’s engagement with modernity.

Putting the matter somewhat simplistically, one group of twentieth-century Catholic theologians – including Henri de Lubac, S.J., Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou, S.J., and Jorge Medina Estévez – maintained that the Church could only authentically renew itself by going back to the basic sources of Christian inspiration: most notably the Sacred Scriptures, Tradition, and the Church Fathers. It was on this basis that they thought the Church should speak to the modern world about, for example, justice issues. They were certainly not disinterested in the insights offered, for example, by modern sciences such as physics or economics. They were, however, convinced that unless the Catholic Church spoke in distinctly Christian terms, the uniqueness of Christ’s message was bound to be lost.

Another cluster of theologians, however, had a different starting-point. They argued that Church renewal meant looking to the modern world for guidance. It included figures such as Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., and Hans Küng. On one level, they were concerned with making the Christian message comprehensible to self-consciously “modern” people. But most eventually went further and argued that the modern world itself contained the hermeneutic for how Christians should engage the earthly city, and even defined what it meant to be Christian.

The problem with the second approach is that it quickly degenerates into a set of circular propositions such as the following: the modern world (as defined by, for example, Hans Küng) says that equality à la John Rawls or Karl Marx is the content of justice; the modern world defines Christian self-understanding; therefore the Christian concern for justice should be Rawlsian or Marxist in nature.

In this schema of reasoning, there’s no obvious way of testing whether a particular modern proposition accords with Divine Revelation because the modern world itself is regarded as somehow summarizing the content of Revelation. In effect, whatever is considered to be modern – and whoever sets himself up as defining the content of modernity – becomes the arbiter of what is and is not Christian. (more…)

A 2001 radio interview of Barack Obama surfaced yesterday in which he said that “one of the tragedies of the Civil Rights movement,” and one of the limitations of the Warren Supreme Court, was that although they won such formal rights as the right to vote and “sit at the lunch counter and order,” they “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.”

A caller to the station, WBEZ Chicago 91.5 FM, then asks if the courts are “the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place.” Obama responds that “you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally,” but a more effective approach is “the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributed change.”

Does the radio interview demonstrate that Obama harbors radical views? Does it suggest that the black liberation theology of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, plays a bigger role in Obama’s thinking than he claims? Should black Americans get substantial monetary payments from other Americans as repayment for slavery and racism? If these are the primary questions swirling around this radio interview in the coming days, an important question may go begging: Would reparations specifically, and wealth redistribution generally, actually help poor black Americans?

In a new Acton video short, “How not to Help the Poor,” experts on poverty fighting argue that government wealth redistribution has devastated poor communities.

One of the experts interviewed is Robert Woodson, a former Civil Rights activist and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. “We in Washington today lead the nation in 21 separate categories of poverty expenditures,” he notes. “Explain to me why a child born in Washington D.C. has a life expectancy that’s lower than a child born anywhere in the western hemisphere second only to Haiti. We have the highest per capita expenditure on education and we’re 48th in outcomes for kids.”

Woodson does not find the answer in the history of blacks under slavery but in U.S. social policy after 1960. “The black marriage rate in 1930 to 1940 was higher than in the white community. Eighty-two percent of all black families had a man and a woman raising children. But what happened in 1960 when government intervened with the poverty programs, a major paradigm shift occurred and contributed to the decimation of the family.”

Why do such well-intended programs have such devastating consequences? And what has proven to help lift up the poor? The video short also explores these questions.

An early transcript of the Obama radio interview is available here.

On National Review Online, Sam Gregg, Acton’s director of research, takes a look at the new Father-General of the Society of Jesus and what’s ahead for “one of Catholicism’s most influential — and controversial — religious orders.”

The Jesuits are dealing with a steep decline in numbers and other serious problems, as Sam points out:

Many Jesuit universities have become virtually indistinguishable from your average left-wing secular academy. Some Jesuits candidly say the order’s intellectual edge began seriously fraying in the 1970s, corroded by an idolatry of the contemporary — marked particularly by an embrace of Marxist critiques that would engender bad politics and even worse theology, including efforts to water down Christ’s uniqueness in the name of that ubiquitous word: “dialogue.”

By the early 1980s, Rome had had enough. In 1981, John Paul II took the radical step of suspending the order’s normal governance. In 1983, Fr. Kolvenbach was elected Father-General. Though widely considered a good man, it’s unclear he affected any significant change in the Jesuits’ direction.

For example, three of the last four Catholic theologians publicly notified by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that their writings contradict basic Christian beliefs were Jesuits: Frs. Jon Sobrino, Roger Haight, and Jacques Dupuis. Some see this as the price of doing cutting-edge theology. Others view it as the result of simply muddled theology.

Read “End of the Jesuits?” on NRO here.

An assortment of radical socialist chums gathered in Caracas, Venezuela for a lively discussion on the issue, “United States: A possible revolution.” The event was part of the third annual Venezuela International Book Fair on November 9-18, and featured the usual campus radicals, anti-American crusaders, and Marxist activists. As usual among committed Marxists, the main target of evil and oppression in the world is the United States.

Writing a summary of events for the Militant, Olympia Newton’s article is titled, “Venezuela forum debates prospects for revolutionary change in U.S.” The Militant describes itself as “A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people.” Rebuffing the claim that America has a revolutionary past at the event was Richard Gott, a British author and defender of Hugo Chavez and his government. Newton quoted Gott in her article:

“There has never been a revolution in the United States, and anyone who thinks there has been is ignorant of their own history,” responded panelist Richard Gott, a British author and journalist. Gott said the American Revolution, which defeated British colonial rule, could not be considered a revolution. Rather, it was a war to take land from Native American tribes, whose territory, he said, was being protected by the British royal army.

“No, a revolution is not possible in the United States,” said Gott. “It is conservative and reactionary. The only hope is Latin America.”

Newton also quoted Black activist Amiri Baraka who is known for his 9/11 poem, “Somebody Blew Up America.” Amiri Baraka suggested some reforms to help spark the revolution:

“That revolution has never been completed,” Baraka said. “There is still no democracy for Blacks.” He proposed that Blacks and Latinos, including the “progressive” Black bourgeoisie, unite around a program to abolish the electoral college; establish a unicameral parliamentary system; ban “private money” from election campaigns; make voting compulsory; and restore voting rights to felons. Such constitutional reforms, he said, would shift power towards “people’s democracy” in the United States. Revolutionary goals could then be put on the agenda.

If you recognize these ideas, some of the thoughts such as repealing the electoral college, felons voting, and banning private money in elections has found its way into the mainstream of American political debate.

So while the prospects for a Marxist revolutionary change in America are not bright, radical ideas are found in many mainline denominational churches. I remember attending a Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church for The Institute on Religion and Democracy and seeing many copies of Fidel Castro’s book, War, Racism and Economic Justice: The Global Ravages of Capitalism prominently displayed by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church.

Hugo Chavez, a voice of authority and leader for many of the politically oppressed in Hollywood, has also found passionate supporters among some entrenched in leadership of mainline churches. It’s a reminder of their past love affair with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas and the old cliche, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

An interesting article in the Los Angeles Times detailing how badly wrong Robert Mugabe’s supporters in the West have been from the very beginning (requires “free” registration; may I suggest BugMeNot?):

From the beginning of his political career, Mugabe was not just a Marxist but one who repeatedly made clear his intention to run Zimbabwe as an authoritarian, one-party state. Characteristic of this historical revisionism is former Newsweek southern Africa correspondent Joshua Hammer, writing recently in the liberal Washington Monthly that “more than a quarter-century after leading his guerrilla army to victory over the racist regime of Ian Smith in white-minority-ruled Rhodesia, President Robert Mugabe has morphed into a caricature of the African Big Man.”

But Mugabe did not “morph” into “a caricature of the African Big Man.” He has been one since he took power in 1980 — and he displayed unmistakable authoritarian traits well before that. Those who were watching at the time should have known what kind of man Mugabe was, and the fact that so many today persist in the contention that Mugabe was a once-benign ruler speaks much about liberal illusions of African nationalism.

It turns out that useful idiots still exist, and sadly, probably always will.

Perhaps not from its inception, but certainly in the post-WWII era, the global Christian ecumenical movement, as represented by groups like the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, has been increasingly dominated by Marxist economics, liberation theology, and transformationalist ethics.

Much of this was mediated through the influence and work of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr in part observed the reality that since there was no single government above nation-states which could restrict and regulate their activity, the realm of global realpolitik is doomed to be characterized by immorality and warmongering.

If “all social co-operation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion,” and “If, as Bertrand Russell prophesies, some form of oligarchy, whether capitalistic or communistic, be inevitable in a technological age, because of the inability of the general public to maintain social control over the experts who are in charge of the intricate processes of economics and politics, the communistic oligarch would seem to be preferable in the long run to the capitalistic one. His power would be purely political, and no special economic interests would tempt him to pursue economic policies at variance with the national interest .”

No doubt in its utopianism, idealism, and therefore almost exclusive blame for the ills of the world upon global capitalism the ecumenical movement has gone far beyond what Niebuhr himself had or ever would say (for, after all, unlike WARC, Niebuhr wrote, “Neither is it true that modern wars are caused solely by the modern capitalistic system with its disproportion of economic power and privilege.” He was a bit more nuanced).

For more on where the ecumenical movement is today, see this piece by IRD’s Mark Tooley (and some older background here).

For the move toward a global government, see this. And for the relationship between a global government and the ecumenical movement see this.

Update: See also, “Reinhold Niebuhr is Unseen Force in 2008 Elections” and Reinhold Niebuhr Today.

More: As predicted, Niebuhr’s name is seemingly on everyone’s lips. See this Atlantic Monthly article, “A Man for All Reasons,” and the reaction from GetReligion.

After World War II, Winston S. Churchill delivered his famed address warning of the descending Iron Curtain across the captive nations of Eastern Europe. Critics said Churchill engaged in unnecessary warmongering with an allied nation. His address was given at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Churchill declared in his address:

Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them. They will not be removed by a mere waiting to see what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement . . . From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.

Author Bruce Bawer wrote an article for City Journal titled, “Peace Racket: An anti-Western movement touts dictators, advocates appeasement—and gains momentum.” Bawer notes the dangers of many of the modern peace study programs at colleges and universities, and their transparently one sided evaluation of any armed conflict, and hatred for traditional Western world-views. Bawer notes:

We need to make two points about this movement at the outset. First, it’s opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values.

Second, we’re talking not about a bunch of naive Quakers but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union, and in many nongovernmental organizations. It is also waging an aggressive, under-the-media-radar campaign for a cabinet-level Peace Department in the United States.

The author also notes the founder of this movement to be a 77-year-old Norwegian professor named Johan Galtung, who established the International Peace Research Institute.

According to the author, Galtang is “in fact a lifelong enemy of freedom.” He goes on to cite example after example of Gultang’s hatred of Western and American values, and “denounced anti-Communists as warmongering crypto-fascists.” Bawer also says:

Galtung, who helpfully revised Lenin’s theories to account for America’s “indirect” imperialism. Students acquire a zero-sum picture of the world economy: if some countries and people are poor, it’s because others are rich. They’re taught that American wealth derives entirely from exploitation and that Americans, accordingly, are responsible for world poverty.

Christian pacifism is of course a legitimate part of Christian history and practice, even if not the dominant position traditionally held by ministers and theologians. These defenders and guardians of peace are however not working from any Christian understanding. In fact, the author cites an example of the peace study programs that work from and prop up new age philosophies.

One should obviously lean to uplifting the powerful witness and practice of peace, which was so perfectly modeled in the incarnate Christ. This article at the same time will surely be disturbing for those who believe in faith and freedom, and that it is a value and gift worth defending. Furthermore the article addresses the students in the university who are turned into socialist converts, who can no longer distinguish between good and evil. After reading the superb article by Bawer, I wondered if it was truly peace these so called gatekeepers of justice valued, or rather a dismantling of spiritual and economic liberty, democracy, private property, and the rule of law.

There is a profound moral difference between the use of force for conquest, and the use of force for liberation. The author easily notes how this distinction is not made among many in the “peace studies” arena. And that is fundamentally why this author can write so clearly about the dangers of those who believe America’s so called capitalist system is the cause for so much oppression and blood shed in the world.