From International Socialism, No.42, February/March 1970, p.35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Marxism and Christianity
Gerald Duckworth, 25s
‘Roman Catholicism in its worst aspects is the corrupted religion of a subsistence economy; Communism, the corrupted religion of modern industrial society. But there is this great cleansing power in Communism – it never invokes the name of God to disguise its corruption. Hence Communism unlike the Church is preserved from the ultimate blasphemy. This is why the two most relevant books in the modern world are St. Mark’s Gospel and Marx’s National Economy and Philosophy; but they must be read together.’
In this rewritten version of an earlier work Marxism: An Interpretation (SCM Press, 1953) the above quotation and many others on similar themes have been excised. In abandoning a vantage point from which ‘to understand Marxism is to understand better the pattern of redemption from sin which is the gospel’, MacIntyre was to describe a trajectory which took in most of the revolutionary left groupings, before coming to rest as a professor in the waste-lands of Essex. Marxism and Christianity gives an account of his last-published equilibrium-point. The book should never have been re-written. Whatever the faults of the original work it had a coherence and relevance deriving from the fact that, although written on a philosophical and religious level, its concerns were ultimately directed towards action. The new work lacks any effective integrating focus and any convincing outcome.
Most of the chapters expounding the development of the young Marx out of Hegel via Feuerbach have been preserved virtually unaltered from the 1953 edition (though the addition of the word Christianity to the title of the work has been accompanied by the removal of virtually every section of the earlier work which dwelt on the meaning and contemporary significance of the gospel). These chapters are written with the sensitivity and lucidity which characterises MacIntyre at his best. He gives a brief exposition of the semi-secularisation of Christianity in the Hegelian system, of the Left Hegelian rejection of the theological implications of the Hegelian Absolute and of their move towards a liberal, philosophical critique of contemporary reality, through Marx’s criticism and transformation of philosophy into an instrument of practice to the conclusions embodied in the Communist Manifesto. Though questionable in many matters of detail these chapters (2-5) could usefully serve in any introduction to Marxism.
The rest of the book, alas, while full of insights and erudition is ultimately inconsequential. For while MacIntyre presents various theological regressions which Marxism has undergone in practice (e.g. deification of the Party in Lukacs, deification of history in Kautsky, the cults and rituals of Soviet Marxism) and throws up a series of problems which have afflicted Marxist views on morality, etc., it all leads nowhere. When he talks of ‘the urgency of the task of providing for contemporary society a critique on the scale of Marx’s critique of classical capitalism’ (p.40), it is hard to see what this could consist of except a Marxist critique of the contemporary world. And if IS has not provided this, at least in outline, it is up to MacIntyre who drifted out of IS without any explanation of its theoretical inadequacies a few years ago, to show what is incorrect in the overall revolutionary Marxist perspective of his last-known group of comrades.
But one suspects MacIntyre is looking for something quite different and if his recent sociological writings in New Society for example are anything to go by, he wants the critique to be couched in the language of social science wherein he seems to find insights into the modern condition. It would be a purely theoretical enterprise. Despite his mention in the Preface of the need to deal with the relationship of belief to organisation, he does not take this up. Concrete problems of industrial and political strategy and organisation are bypassed by operating at a level of abstraction where such mundane concerns can safely be left to others. One gets a glimpse of how comfortably the university ideologue suffers in contemporary capitalism. In 1953 in the struggle between Marx and Jesus, Jesus just had the edge (for ‘in a fully Marxist world prayer would be impossible’). At the height of the New Left the choice lay between Keynes and Trotsky.
‘I think of them at the end, Keynes with his peerage, Trotsky with an ice-pick in his skull. They are the twin lives between which intellectual choice in our society lies.’ (Out of Apathy, p.240)
Now, alas, there seems to be no need for commitment, only for criticism: MacIntyre has been so successful intellectually that it no longer matters what he is intellectual about. Why bother to change the world when there is so much in it to interpret?
Last updated on 27.12.2007