Category: Religion


Toward a New Marxism

I’ve reentered school in the fall–a task which has kept me busy, however much I like it, and so I’ve let blogging fall by the wayside.  I really, truly, want to change that, to get back on the horse, so to speak.

The best way for me to start is to go where my heart has been in all this time since I’ve posted more regularly.

First of all, Egypt has inspired me.  From an internet based movement, sparked by the revolution and bravery of Tunisia, Egypt toppled a 30-year-old regime, despite opposition from the dominant party, precisely because regardless of difficulty, the Egyptian people never backed down, never resorted to violence, rape, looting (excepting the violence in defense from pro-Mubarak ‘supporters’), never strayed from message–they consistently would be placated with nothing less than ‘Mubarak, step down!’.  And step down he did.  That settled, and the military verbally guaranteeing reforms for a real democracy (whether they remain committed to such a vision remains to be seen), they proceed to clean up the mess that the protest has created.  This is how a protest should be–clear, revolutionary demands, without resorting to anarchy or being placated by red-herring false promises and impotent, minuscule changes.  And it was a neither a U.S. trained coup nor a militant, Islamist revolt against ‘secularization,’ but a multiparty coalition for democracy which has changed the face of the Middle East.  We should all learn from Egyptians. . . this is what hope and change look like.
In the West, we’ve gone so long without hope and change.  We’ve long felt impotent, and rationalized our inactivity.  “This is the way it’s always been. . . ” or “Americans aren’t willing to move with us for anything better. . . ,” or perhaps “It’s a Right Wing nation” or “Look at the obstacles to change!”  The leftmost phrase one can use to describe oneself is “progressive,” and that rather meaningless phrase is still labelled “Communist” in some crowds, depending on who you ask.  What does one do?
I am a committed Marxist, but not the “Old Left” or “New Left” kind.  The “Old Left” kind prioritized structures over agency, over the need to move in what Marxists called the “superstructure” to help people see the world they live in for what it is, and to pave a path to change it.  The “Old Left” prioritized class over gender, race, sexuality, environment.  The “New Left” hated the same systems of oppression, but saw gender, sexuality, race, and environment sometimes simultaneous to class, and sometimes instead of class.  They rejected authority, either Right or Left, and they fought for a world of TOTAL freedom.  But their overcorrection for the sins of the Old Left, their anti-authoritarianism, allowed them to descend into a rag-tag and decentralized band of competing struggles, each decidedly committed to their own ends and de facto competing against the ends of other New Left groups.  I consider the New Left generation of the 60’s to be the ‘Greatest Generation,’ whose war was not against fascism abroad but totalitarian unfreedom at home–fighting against alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, capitalism, and for the oppressed, the exploited, the nonhuman animals.  But in their fight against all sources of oppression, the New Left so commonly devolved into a quasi-postmodern, infighting-prone, drug-dependent, and unprincipled band of uncoordinated movements, whose rejection of a capital-O Order resulted in the structural inability to meet their potential, their destiny.
It is our time to learn from their mistakes.  Inequality.  Environmental degradation.  Impotence in one’s workplace, country, city. . . life!  One drinks and lives vicariously through television and video games, playing Madden 2010 instead of football, watching James Bond instead of having martinis with beautiful women (or men, for that manner).  What went wrong?
I believe the New Left of the 1960’s had a lot right.  You cannot build a new society without abolishing racism, sexism, homophobia, traditional family structures, abandoning capitalism, reengaging the environment, seeking new spiritualities, rejecting war.  But the New Left maintained a definition of Freedom that was no more than an extension of the ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom into wider realms.  The ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom defines freedom loosely as the freedom to choose within a constrained choice set.  Let me be clearer.  ‘Bourgeois’ freedom argued that if a person’s society and nature keep them able only to choose between ‘A’ and ‘B,’ and prevents them from choosing ‘C,’ ‘D,’ etc. up to ‘Z’, when under other social rules one could have choices from A to Z, ‘Bourgeois’ or capitalist notions of freedom considers you free—because, hell, you have a choice, right?

The “New Left” extended this notion–they argued that no one has a right to make you choose only A or B, between Green Apple Antibacterial dish soap or Orange anti-grease dish soap, when you could have not only antibacterial AND anti-grease dish soap, but way more meaningful choices than soap at the end of the day.  They wanted you to be able to choose between A and Z. But they rarely connected the different systems of oppression, and they never looked at the effects of the systems of oppression and exploitation as a whole, ignoring that alongside the need to have self determination for your nation, your relationship(s), and your workplace, is the need to have self determination over your full self.  And this is not the Christian notion of feeling bad for every time you enjoy a piece of cake or a good lay, but the humanization of one’s desires, making them truly yours rather than enculturated or contradictory pursuits.  So they wouldn’t listen to each other (who are you to tell me what to do?) and they tuned out, and blew their minds.  What do we do?

Like I said, I am neither an Old Left nor a New Left Marxist, but there is value to each.  Perhaps you could call me a Now Left Marxist. Here is a part of where I stand (and if you happen to want the theoretical backing, quotes and such, leave a comment).
Meaningful freedom is more than what you can do with a limited choice set–freedom is both external (your liberty to do what you want without external barriers) and internal (your liberty to do what you want without mental or habitual limitations).  One creates oneself through habituation (among other things), and so either external or internal limitations cripple the self–you are limited in your own self-creating potential.  And there are two types of barriers, natural and social, which can affect either internal or external freedom (I’m sorry if this is too heady, I just have faith in you–if you need clarification, please comment).  I’ll probably expand upon this later, but for now suffice to say that the ultimate freedom is both democratic influence over all the external factors that constrain your choices (social or natural, and for all external structures) and over all internal factors (ideologies, command over one’s own inclinations, habits, desires, etc).  This latter part, I believe, is a fundamental component of Marx’s ultimate project, as well as my own, extending into one’s relationships, consumer activity, etc., and most particularly NOT resulting in a denial of one’s desires, i.e. towards sex, drink, etc., but merely the use of all things as informed by ones fully free choices.

The point is making oneself fully the person one wants to be.  That is freedom.  And advocates of a limited freedom–libertarians, Republicans, capitalist apologists–they don’t advocate full freedom.  They advocate a conception of the lowest level of external freedom–choice within social and natural constraints–but even then an inconsistent version, where one’s external freedom can limit the external (and internal freedom) of another, but for no good reason.  For example, a speculator can buy the property of a family facing hard economic times, and use that power to raise the family’s rent until they can no longer pay.  The speculator has external freedom–no government or external force prevents them from buying the house–but their freedom to do so violates the freedom of the family to stay in their house, and that limitation is first social (social rules backed by force allow the speculator to take the family’s house) and natural (that force, personified by police, can remove the family at a very real physical danger to their lives). People who equate capitalism to freedom don’t get freedom–and I don’t think they want to.  But my Marxism, and I believe it stems from Marx himself, is founded in a fully, consistent, internal and external freedom.

You should be free in your work, government, relationships, beliefs, and over yourself.  You should be connected with your true goals, loved ones, community, environment.  You should manifest your creative power and develop yourself in all aspects of life, be it work or sex, eating or playing, or anything else under the sun, so long as at the end of the day it helps others do the same, rather than hinders them.  Now Left Marxism is feminist, queer, antiracist, environmentalist, and Buddhist (in its emphasis, with Buddhism, on control over the self), and founded in a demand for full democratization and full liberation.  It is this philosophy that I hope to develop here, and I invite comments.  Let Egypt show us that true change is possible, and lesson learned, lets change the world ourselves.

One eminent result of the fall of the Soviet Empire–for all its faults–has been a crisis of faith in Socialist circles. The fall of the USSR has made socialism look untenable, and as a result, many socialists have been searching for an alternative to a centrally planned, bureaucratic economy. Some have collapsed their demands, and choose instead to advocate some sort of social democracy, like Sweden. This, unfortunately, proves unstable by allowing private ownership of capital, and thus containing within itself a constant pull towards capitalism with all its faults. Others have turned towards market socialism, but this, too, contains the seeds which made market capitalism so prone to allow self-interest to dominate social interactions, among other faults of capitalism. In short, many socialists have relaxed their demands or given up substantial portions of their goals. This, combined with the success of free market ideology and power consolidation, has created a void of socialist advocacy and activism where it is needed most. But in perspective, this is a time for celebration.

The fall of the Soviet Union has given us socialists the opportunity to try to create the best socialism, the most equitable, efficient, democratic socialism possible in practice. On the other hand, while power has been consolidated by the neoliberal empire, their power is augmented by an appeal to legitimacy, saying (in effect) “our competition is gone, so we win by default,” but such a claim appeals for legitimacy. It begs us to consent and obey; it begs us to filter out and water down our hopes for a just world. But such a tactic cannot remain impervious to critique, and for legitimacy’s sake, it must allow critique. The global system cannot both critique the Soviets for tyrannical power over markets and denying political and civil liberties, AND suppress global movements in an overt fashion. Don’t get me wrong, the CIA has a history of destroying Leftist movements, but it has done so with an eye towards suppression the information. Consequently, we socialists must gain our voices; we must be loud, strong, and proud! We must be international, and forge relationships with feminist, pacifist, and environmentalist groups.  We must establish collectives that will help us take care of each other, to make it possible to go into the world without needing a paycheck, making us independent.  All socialists, of all countries, religions, genders, races, ages, and socialisms must come together and unify under one overarching group.  This is the way we can make some headway against the neoliberal empire.  We must raise our voices until we become a public force, and with publication comes protection from destruction.  If we become public, if we become loud, strong, and proud, then the neoliberal empire will have to maintain legitimacy by opposing us through normal means–we force their hand to engage in debate.  The neoliberal need for a successful ideology will give us a voice.  I propose (at least) the following prescriptions for a successful socialism.

(1) Leftist journals, individuals, organizations, political parties, etc., must unify under one international movement and have representatives meet regularly to establish objectives in the collective advocacy of socialism. While there is still debate over what socialism is best [and it should not be necessary to establish ‘hierarchical determination of party principles’ as the Soviets did], the most immediate ends that can be established are (1) an international socialist bill of rights, and a plan for (2) a future international confederation of socialist states, as well as (3) the consolidation of political and economic power that a dispersed socialist movement cannot accomplish.  Socialists need to become an international power-bloc and work together on the movement as a whole.

This is NOT a demand for unified agreement between socialists, nor is it an argument for a centralized socialist order.  This is a call for the unification of the movement.  There should be doctrinal disagreement and living debate, but these disagreements should not fragment the movement.

(2) This organization must appeal to all progressive movements, feminist, environmentalist, civil rights, NGO’s, etc., over the need to join the cause.  This will greatly assist our movement.

(3) This organization must engage in debates in every intellectual field, most immediately with (1) religious scholars, and (2) economists.  Real Christianity and Buddhism both support socialism over capitalism, and I believe Islam the same.  Additionally, dealing with oppositional economists will show that socialism is viable, and that traditional arguments against its possibility are false.

The social teachings of the major world religions, generally, have been used (at least in the West) to support capitalism, when in fact they most consistently support socialism.  This ideological barrier to socialism should be what it naturally is–an ideological aid.

(4) This unified socialist movement must move to create institutions independent from the capitalist system.  It needs to establish (ideally) communal living situations with proportional private space (for many reasons), schools, provide socialist scholarly resources free to individuals, food and health distribution, etc.  If it is necessary for the good life, socialists must provide it independently from the capitalist system.

(5) Once unified, institutions in place, socialists need to continue their militant advocacy of socialism–and by militant, I do not mean violent, I mean unwavering.  Socialists must unwaveringly pursue a nonviolent revolution.  A revolution is no more than a dramatic change from one system or ruler to another.  How is this to be accomplished nonviolently?  Socialists must simultaneously pursue the following (and this step is more of a systemized presentation of the preceeding thoughts, with some overlap).

(5a) Socialists must pursue political change in all areas of power, be they international, national, state, district, city, or county.  Even socialist neighborhood councils are steps in the right direction to further solidarity.  Socialists must advocate (i) the collapse of international capitalist institutions (WTO, IMF, etc) and their replacement with international socialist institutions, and (ii) the democratic promotion of socialist politicians in every level of political office.

(5b)  Socialists must create institutions independent of the capitalist system as in (4).

(5c)  Socialists must work to change the ideological structure of society, which involves (i) the unification of socialists, and (ii) promotion of socialist ideals in all areas of social thought (such as sociology, psychology, philosophy, economics, religion, etc).  This should also include (iii) extensive research into effective rhetoric, as well as political and activist tactics, and how movements for social change succeed or fail, with an emphasis on lessons for success in contemporary conditions.  Furthermore, these lessons should (iv) be made widely available for socialist activists in free handbooks and other resources to help in the field, while organizing.  Finally, (v) successful socialist organizing and advocacy should include an extensive campaign to democratize traditional media, as well as use internet-based and public information campaigns to ‘spread the word’.

(5d) Socialists must then work on grassroots campaigns to get popular consensus in favor of increasing economic democracy and socialist progress, in addition to supporting the aforementioned programs and increasing pressure on the status quo.

These are only the most preliminary and general of suggestions, and I hope that they serve to stimulate debate.

Here is but a small set of Christian scriptures (restricting myself mostly to the New Testament) concerning capitalism.

On consumerism, materialism, and capital accumulation.

Capitalism is fueled by what Leslie Sklair calls “the culture-ideology of consumerism,” a set of social beliefs that encourage demand for material things–the hoarding of stuff.  Additionally, corporations and individuals in capitalist economies tend towards emphasizing economic growth exclusively–all other things are advocated in terms of their promotion of economic growth. 

Matthew 6: 19-21.

Treasure in Heaven
Lk. 12.32-34
19  ¶ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, Jas. 5.2, 3 and where thieves break through and steal:
20  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Perhaps it may be objected that the economy needs to grow in proportion to the people in it. . . and I agree, but its distribution among them ought to be equalized.

More on consumerism, care for material things – Matthew 6: 25-34

Care and Anxiety
Lk. 12.22-31
25  ¶ Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26  Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28  And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29  and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory 1 Kgs. 10.4-7 · 2 Chr. 9.3-6 was not arrayed like one of these.
30  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31  Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34  ¶ Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

On Debt – a major feature of capitalist society.

Matthew 6: 9-14

9  After this manner therefore pray ye:

        
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10  Thy kingdom come.

        
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven.
11  Give us this day our daily bread.
12  And forgive us our debts,

        
as we forgive our debtors.
13  And lead us not into temptation,

        
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, 1 Chr. 29.11 for ever. Amen.
14  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you . . .

I’ve found a lot in the New Testament alone that opposes capitalism on many levels–and I haven’t needed to go beyond Matthew 6.  I’ll end the way all New Testament exhibitions should end–

Matthew 5:3-12

The Beatitudes
Lk. 6.20-23
3  ¶ Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4  ¶ Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Is. 61.2
5  ¶ Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Ps. 37.11
6  ¶ Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Is. 55.1, 2
7  ¶ Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8  ¶ Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Ps. 24.4, 5
9  ¶ Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10  ¶ Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: 1 Pet. 3.14 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11  ¶ Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 1 Pet. 4.14
12  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets 2 Chr. 36.16 · Acts 7.52 which were before you.

Luke 10:25-27 (And look at the whole sermon)

25  ¶ And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26  He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27  And he answering said,

        
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,
and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; Deut. 6.5
and thy neighbor as thyself. Lev. 19.18

Happy Easter!

In honor of (who I accept to be) our Lord Jesus, the night before Easter, I want to do a brief post about Christianity and capitalism–and I expect to do many more.  This topic really interests me, and there is so much to discuss.  Today I will discuss the Gospel of Thomas and capitalism–yes, I accept the Gospel of Thomas as at least as authoritative as the canonical gospels.

In (46), Jesus says ” . . . And it is impossible for a servant to serve two masters, otherwise, he will honor the one and treat the other contemptuously . . . ” The implication of this, at least one of many, is clear.  One can serve the wishes of one’s boss, country, and the market in general  (as well as all other norm-generating sources of authority) only when their commandments are at least compatible, i.e. not against, with the teachings of God.  Are capitalism’s rules?

(64) says the following:

Jesus said, “A man had received visitors.  And when he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servant to invite the guests.  He went to the first one and said to him, ‘My master invites you.’  He said, ‘I have claims against some merchants.  They are coming to me this evening.  I must go and give them my orders.  I ask to be excused from the dinner.’  He went to another and said to him, ‘My master has invited you.’  He said to him, ‘I have just bought a house and am required for the day.  I shall not have any spare time.’  He went ot another and said to him, ‘My master invites you.’  He said to him, ‘My friend is going to get married, and I am to prepare the banquet.  I shall not be able to come.  I ask to be excused from the dinner.’  He went to another and said to him, ‘My master invites you.’  He said to him, ‘I have just bought a farm and I am on my way to collect the rent.  I shall not be able to come.  I ask to be excused.’  The servant returned and said to his master,  ‘Those whom you invited to the dinner ahve asked to be excused.’  The master said to his servant,  ‘Go outside to the streets and bring back those whom you happen to meet, so that they may dine.’  Businessmen and merchants [will] not enter the places of my father.”

 Lets reiterate the excuses for not coming to the banquet of the Master.

(1) Must collect claims against some merchants, i.e. a lender.

(2) Has purchased a house and has things to do with it, i.e. a consumer generally, someone concerned with the state of acquisitions.

 (3) Preparer of the banquet at a wedding, i.e. more concerned with personal relationships and temporal obligations.

(4) Collecting rent on a farm, i.e. landlord. 

Jesus said that (1) lenders, (2) people with consumerist mentalities (concerned with acquisitions), and (4) landlords are not going to be in the house of the Master. 

Following the dictates of Capital ((1) and (4)), the values (2) of the system, is following a different Master. 

Note also that, of the traditional three economic classes in the capitalist system (going back to Adam Smith), capitalists, landlords, and laborers, the first two are explicitly reprimanded.  Also, the value system that feeds the system (consumerism) is decried. 

“Businessmen and merchants [will] not enter the places of my [F]ather.”

Happy Easter!