Poor Misunderstood Marx!
Commonweal has an article by Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton in which he argues that Marx was right in his critique of captalism. Go here to read it. Go here to read a post about the article which appeared on the Commonweal blog. ( I will confess to having a very slight grudging respect for Mr. Eagleton ever since his memorable, and scorching, review which may be read here, of Richard Dawkins’ inane The God Delusion. The respect is very slight and very grudging indeed, since Mr. Eagleton also wrote a bitter diatribe against John Paul II, which may be read here, after the death of the pontiff. He also views the Catholic Church, the Church he was raised in, as “one of the nastiest authoritarian outfits on the planet”, which is rich coming from a Marxist.)
The Marx set forth in the article by Mr. Eagleton is unrecognizable to me. The Marx of history was not some sort of democratic eurosocialist. He was a hard core advocate of terror. The quotations from his works and letters on this point are legion. Here is a typical statement he made in 1850 in an address to the Communist League:
“[The working class] must act in such a manner that the revolutionary excitement does not collapse immediately after the victory. On the contrary, they must maintain it as long as possible. Far from opposing so-called excesses, such as sacrificing to popular revenge of hated individuals or public buildings to which hateful memories are attached, such deeds must not only be tolerated, but their direction must be taken in hand, for examples’ sake.”
From the same address:
To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising.
Nothing done by the Communist states that claimed Marx as their ideological father in regard to the suppression of adversaries and the use of mass terror to remain in power cannot find full warrant in the works of Marx.
Of course, Marx goes wrong at the very beginning in regard to his view of Man which is completely materialist. In his A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx spelled out his view that religion was an illusion which deterred the revolutionary rage of the people:
The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is 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.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.
It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
Marx was a poor philosopher who completely misunderstood the nature of Man. He had little understanding of economics and his predictions as to the future course of history were twaddle. What he did do however, and that quite successfully, was to produce an ideology for devoted followers to use as an excuse to seize power and to remake humanity in a Marxist shape. This laboratory experiment with entire peoples as lab rats produced death and misery on a scale never seen before in human history.
That a Catholic magazine would give space to a man who thinks that perhaps Marx was right after all, and who is a bitter anti-Catholic to boot, might be considered shocking to some. (Marx would have found it bitterly amusing. He had nothing but contempt for those who attempted to mix Christianity and socialism. His phrase, “Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat”, summed up his dismissal of this mixture.) However, this is Commonweal, and it is merely reflecting a readership largely consisting of an aging cohort of uber liberal Catholics who have always had a soft spot in their hearts and heads for most things of the Left. Eagleton, who apparently may now believe in God while remaining a committed Marxist, is a natural for this target audience. For myself, when it comes to religion I will stick with the Church, when it comes to politics with Edmund Burke, the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln, and when it comes to economics, with Milton Friedman, an easier amalgam of beliefs I think than attempting to baptize Marx.