The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Karl Marx- The German Ideology

Part III: A Very Classical Formation

What Marxism most gave me was not a revolutionary or defiant tendency in my world-view. What is gave me was discipline in thought, action, and sentiment. Compared to most "liberal" paradigms floating around in academic circles, Marxism is a dinosaur. Marxism believes in the universality of truth, cold analysis of events, and is committed to the conviction that ideas do have consequences:

Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.

-Marx, the Eighth Thesis on Feurbach

This is what I most needed at the tender age of sixteen. My brother (an avid reader of this blog) had just gone off to Berkeley, and like a cliche playing itself out again, he was radicalized when he met a group of Trotskyists masquerading as civil rights activists. (Leftists like front groups because it makes them look less scary.) Being the younger brother, then, it was natural that I took interest in what he was doing, and I quickly began absorbing Marxist literature. I was at the time reading a lot of postmodern theorists: Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, etc. My Catholic Faith, while strong in some ways, was becoming weaker and weaker. There was a profound disconnect between what I read, how I believed, how I thought, and how I lived my life. Postmodernism was just a lot of intellectual goofing-off, and it was then that I began to believe that the Roman Catholic Church really had no idea what it really believed in. It was a middle-class, feel-good joke, at least how I experienced it. So it took very little time for me to jettison it all together once I had found something more viable to believe in. I became an atheistic Marxist at the age of sixteen, and for the next three and a half years my life was committed to trying to foment socialist revolution, no matter how absurd that goal really seemed. The first thing I read, coming out of studying philosophy, was Marx's early work, The German Ideology, and I didn't look back from there.

What did Marxism offer? A way to approach the world in all of its aspects. From how to stir up a crowd to fight the police to how to appreciate a work of art, Marxism is a total package as an ideology. At each step it asks: are you committed or not? At each moment you are thinking on how your actions can further the advancement of the liberation of mankind from the eternal enemy of necessity. Even events that might seem cruel and tragic take on a meaning almost equivalent of Divine Providence: Marx said that slavery was necessary in some epochs of humanity. It is only the spread of universal commodity production (capitalism) that has provided the means for human liberation through revolution. Only now can society function where it takes "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

Here I pause to notice a trend that will foreshadow a lot of authors in this series. On the one hand, there are the dreamers that have inspired me: Sartre, Plotinus, the Greek Fathers of the Church, many Orthodox theologians, St. John of the Cross, and the various poets I read. On the other, there are the "realists": M.D. Chenu, Georges Florovsky, Iamblichus, monastic spirituality, and above all, Marxists. The former teach us to look to the sky and imagine, the latter force us to keep our feet on the ground and deal with the problems here below. Marx taught me that life is brutal, but there is beauty in that brutality. We live in a fallen world that plays by fallen rules; you can't play by the game-plan of an ethereal heaven when here on earth, man is a wolf to his fellow man, as the Romans used to say. Marx, though he was uncouth, irresponsible, and all around a real bastard personally, really did care about the fate of humanity. He really did care about those people who were dying of exhaustion in the factories; if he didn't he wouldn't have lived the life he led. He was godless, though, and this meant heaven was closed in terms of a solution to all of it. So brutality had to be met with brutality; force with force, and blood with blood. Could you imagine agnostic political pundits being so honest today about these things?

Logic has to exact its price, even if it has to step on the thrones of kingdoms. Think, act and do not count the cost. This is not the drivel we are fed nowadays.

There is poetry in all of it, though. Marx was a poet, and a very good one since he did not have to write a single poem in his mature life. Observe these lines:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce...... Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.

This is how Marx begins the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. And who can forget the Promethean hymn that ends the first volume of Capital: the expropriators will be expropriated? There was an aesthetic in all of this, make no mistake about it. Again no one was going to tell me how I should think, act, or live my life. Being a poor kid from the barrio, I was not willing to give capitalist society the benefit of the doubt. I agitated, wrote flyers with the help of my Trostkyist party (yes, I was a full-blown comrade once) and nearly got expelled from school for my efforts. And what I had most was a purpose, a romantic purpose, for why I got up every morning. That is what I needed at that young age, and that drive has been with me ever since.

While I still foment leftists tendencies, I have found, to use what has become a shibboleth on this blog, that life is not that simple. The lofty vision of humanity that Marx had includes God and does not exclude Him. Did not St. Ireneaus write: the glory of God is a man fully alive? Why then do we need to exclude the Archetype when explaining the Image and Likeness? Also, to be completely petit-bourgeois, I have found that, echoing Pierre Hadot, political action is useless without personal transformation. Is our postmodern consumerist society even capable now of producing a Marx, Lenin or Trotsky: people so selfless that they will risk their lives and the lives of others for a conviction, without the comfort of an eternal God? The true Marxist will respond that it is only a matter of time that the material and subjective conditions for revolution will produce minds to lead the class struggle. I remain skeptical, and very skeptical. Besides, the only banner I fly now is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only this red banner, soaked in His blood, can save the world from the tyranny of death.


At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well comrade I was not the first one to become a Marxist, you were more anti-imperialist than I was in the First Gulf war and you were the first one to pick up the Communist Manifesto. Let us get this right homeboy. I was never a good Christian I can tell you this, I have always been an atheist at heart.
I have to tell you, as I told many of my former collegues in grad school, society is not that complicated. We are social beings corrupted by private property. Humans cannot stand alone as bourgeois society avers. I was rewarded by being showed the back door because I refused to eat postmodern bull*&^. You are postmodern because postmodernism is cynicalism toward humanity. Yes, people are cruel to each other, this is because of alienation. However, some the most charitable people in this society are of the poor and working class. When they do something, they do it with heart. The middle class and rich do it out of obligation. Yes, you have the poor not abiding by bourgeois values expoused by Christainity, but in the end they are the majority and you are part of it homeboy :)
Marx was a middle class bastard, this is true, but he gave his life to cause of the working class. The champaigne gauche in this country and elsewhere write books and get rich. Marx's words resonate today and will always resonate because he is right. Marx did not worshipped brutality, he pointed it out and condemned it. Ideologies such are Christainity tell their followers to accept the social order and this ideology condemned Europe into the Dark Ages while the Arab and Chinese Empires flourished because they were more enlightened and followed science. They declined and Europe accepted science gradually and gained their prominence in society today. The next stage in societal evolution where the one thing holding back the means of production feeding people is the class system. It only exists to keep the bourgeoisie, the minority in their place as exploiter.
In conclusion, society is not complicated, the economy, the imminent defeat of the American Empire in Iraq will pose things in more stark terms. We as in the belly of the beast cannot see this. Class war increases everyday as well as the imperialist fight for markets. Postmodernism and christainity are the ideology of the cynical. I guess I will end with not agreeing not to give Caesar what is Caesar, stab Caesar and take. From a disgruntled Marxist.

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Ochlophobist said...

I found this post to be brilliant. You are a gifted writer. Logic does have to exact its price, and it does so from me on a daily basis. I too, have a background with both Marxism and the pomo writers you mention. I now find myself in an intellectual world surrounded largely by Christian conservatives of various stripes and I hear the voices of the pomo writers in my head yelling "bulls&#t!, bulls@*t!" as the petty absolutizing of every issue occurs. How shall I live?
also - I share much of your brother's disdain for things bourgeois - which puts me at odds with 99.9% of the converts to Orthodoxy who I mingle with. Middle class morality is so damn cheap - it costs them so little.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


Don't get offended. I know all of what you say better than you do. Sorry, I have worked out these problems differently than you. In a couple of more posts on this series, I will give my real reasons why I renounced Marxism intellectually, and they lie at the heart of Marxism-Leninism itself.

At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well your pretty words only point to one direction and that is total cynacism toward humanity, hence the need for a religious crutch in such a cruel world. You know that Marxism is the proper analysis of reality but you seek answers for life in a myth. Yup, I guess I am crude, that is given, please feel free to dig up Kierkegard and join the Ivory Tower, they need you. This hyperactivity toward religion is somewhat telling that you have doubt in your faith. I mean from Catholic to Anglican, come on. It is all the same to me, except you don't want women to be priests. All your aguements against Marxism breaks down to is that man is in greedy you can't do anything about it. Smacks of victorianism to me. This is what burnt out left professors who try to make graduate students their consorts tell me, reality is more complicated than class struggle. This is utter bull&*^&. We are in the mist of class struggle right now, with workers barely making it to survive and a media telling them what to think. The war of course right now is a one sided offensive on the part of bourgeoisie. This society is perfect capitalism, where media and religion ofiscate the reality of the situation. Yup go on with your little exercises in justifying a myth, people need their hobbies while the battlefield for World War III is set.
Are you willing to suffer for your faith like Marx suffered for the working class? Nah, just go to Berkeley and get that middle class degree and I will buy a copy of Death of a Salesman. Now I regret bringing you to Marxism because now it provides bourgeois twits the fodder to negate the use of Marxism while we all roast in the pot together. The only truism is that with the continued existance of humanity there will be class struggle no flag soaked in anybodys blood with stop this. There is my poetic fourish for today. I am with Plato, expell all the damn poets.

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