The conventional understanding of Marxism as doggedly anti-religious is wrong. In fact, as the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argued, Christianity and Marxism have at times inspired in humanity a radical sense of hope to build a more just world.
This is an interesting article but it exhibits the hopeless muddle that Marxists and its lefts find themselves in, like an army stuck in mud about to face final defeat from the resurgent right aiming at turning Yankee Doddle land into a neo-fascism. First, the article (which is nothing if not interesting) quotes Marx on religion:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”
— Karl Marx, 1843
These two paragraphs contradict each other and can’t be sausaged into consistency.
Then the article moves to the opening statement above trying to claim that Marx wasn’t really against religion, then moves to Hegel on religion, Marx’s tidbits of Hegel, no reference to Kant save in disguise swipe, and then after the typical citation of Nietzsche (the standard way to be rid of Kant by frantic existentialists), moves to Aristotle via MacIntyre.
Marx needs rescuing but this isn’t the way to do it. My strategy is to abandon Marx’s top-level theory completely, use Marx/Engels as historical guides only as critics of capitalism, and start over and stop trying to ape Marx’s ‘materialism’ as an attack on idealism, and,if you are going to kiss and make up with Hegel on religion (Hegel in late life couldn’t even tolerate abolition) then do it right and assess the true worth of Kant’s so-called transcendental idealism before considering Hegel’s (possibly regressive) absolute idealism. Kant just may have been right all along: our perception of space-time is strangely caught in consciousness itself (insert a blurb on Kant’s obscure but revolutionary transcendental deduction) and this Copernican revolution ought to be considered on the left. Here Nietzche is a demon in the labyrinth whose stylist virtues so outmatch Kant’s that he ends up a Pied Piper for all the ragtag stragglers of existentialist blues. Nietzsche was a reactionary anti-modernity, proto-fascist, and a post Darwin trainwreck, despite a host of quotable bon mots.
Let’s note that this article never discussed a key flaw in Marx: his confused, perhaps hypocritical embrace of Darwin.
We suspect that Jesus had a radical bent, but we can’t be sure, and the left can’t hope to use Christianity based on that one quote guess. The question of Jesus is not so easy to resolve and he is not the man Tolstoy thought he was. To see the problem consider a figure like Gurdjieff who claimed to be teaching ‘esoteric Christianity’, was a counterrevolutionary sufi, magical adept, master of ‘Rosicrucian memetics’ so to speak, and so far ahead of the Marxist left as to be, what he in fact claimed he was, an avatar of Beelzebub. His disciple Ouspensky, escaping from the Russian Revolution, calling Bolsheviks criminals, escaped to the West to preach a sufi concoction plus a Samkhya cosmology purloined without citation from that tradition, and declared that the code of Manu was a great legacy and that class and caste should be the wave of the future, the instance of Indic caste being unnoted. And he had/has a big fan in Steve Bannon, who ended up an advisor to a US president, albeit Trump. No Marxist ever got that close to an American president. An ancient version of this was Jesus’ milieu, and while he might well have rebelled against it we can’t just backdate an arachair proto-sufi as the inspiration for proletarian liberation. The ghosts of John the Baptist and St. Paul lurkin in the background to wreck any such hope.
The moral here is that Marx overreacted to his Hegelian milieu, never got around to Kant, and created a concoction in reverse that the left can never overcome, witness this effort to create a new Frankenstein from Macintyre and Aristotle, a laughable combination of discordant elements. Time is running out for the Marxist left, hitching a ride with an imaginary Christianity won’t help. I doubt if Jesus is ever going to be a real inspiration for a revived Marxism. He is not the figure we think he is and in any case he was a pawn in a larger scheme that plotted to seize control of the Roman Empire as a depraved cul de sac of depravity that it was. It finally succeeded and created a new foundation for a world beyond slavery in feudalism but which with the Protestant Reformation began to remorph and then slowly dissipate into secularism. In this context Marx was a direct contributor to a post-Christian secularism, and gets honorable mention, but he created a philosophic mix that couldn’t rightly evaluate the philosophic traditions, even in the rich context of geniuses from Strauss to Buaer and Fuerbach, etc…
All these Redfortyeighters, to use my own terminology, are classics, but they can’t resolve the confusions they endured, and the monopoly of thought that Marx made of it.
A better solution, the ‘materialism’ of J. G. Bennett shows in his The Dramatic Universe how the sufi right outsmarted Marxists even on materialism, and then created a mess out of their own post Marxist piece de resistance. They ended up feeding the alt-right in their counterrevolution against modernity, freedom, and democracy.
All this leaves Marx floundering forever in a mess of pottage. I can only recommend a new approach, starting with my The Last Revolution (and backup texts) which can juggle materialism, idealism, Kant-Hegel-Marx with ease and stay free of all of them. It is not a hard question, but you must ‘snap out of’ endless Marxist apologetics, rightly debrief Christianity and create a socialism from scratch that can construct a post-Marxist/Leninist republic that is post-capitalist and doesn’t have the beards of Marx-Engels set in stone in the public square.
Marx fired the opening shot in a socialist transition, and if his trappings of thought package this achievement as flawed, we simply move on: this table setting as in the Mad Hatter’s tea party has abundant fresh plates and dishes if we can shift seats. I will have to reread After Virtue, but modern philosophic thinking after Kant is like a Nietzschean gunslinger in Tombstone trying to be faster on the draw that the old geezer. Not one has succeeded.
There is a lot more in this article which I read in a hurry.
Find the latest version at redfortyeight.com
The_Last_Revolution_Postcapitalist Futures_ ED3_12_26_22
See also the discussions of Christianity in the recent posts on Christianity and the Roman Emperors.