fragments of an attempted writing.

contra Löwith: on marxism and eschatology, via Boer.

This past summer I discovered the work of Roland Boer, who writes concerning Marxism and religion.  His works Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology and Criticism of Religion: On Marxism and Theology, II will probably be mentioned from time to time on this blog, and the first volume probably reviewed at some point.  It's hard for me to post on that material as my only access to the books are at the local mainline Prot seminary library (which is a great place to study as it is nearly always fairly empty and there are no nursing students there to shoot the breeze with and I can take breaks and read decidedly non-nursing material there), but once I start working more hours this summer I'll probably buy both texts which will will provide more opportunity to reflect and write concerning them.  Given my own history growing up with Marxism and Christianity and having "rededicated my life" to Marxism after being backslidden for years, I was naturally attracted to Boer's work.

I was pleased to learn that Roland Boer has a blog, Stalin's Moustache, and I thought of it today when reading a quote by Karl Löwith on a thread this morning.  Boer addresses Löwith in a blog post from August of this year:

1. Is Marxism a secularised version of Christian (or indeed Jewish) history?
I have had a go at answering this one at the level of Marx’s texts in an article in Mediations. The short answer here is that Marx and Engels set themselves against the dominantly eschatological nature of communism at the time (Moses Hess et al). However, what about the oft-repeated opinion, first proposed by Karl Löwith early last century? At a general level, Marxism partakes of a historical narrative drawn originally from Jewish and Christian thought: this world is a fallen one, the messiah/saviour will come (the proletariat) and bring in the millennium and heaven on earth (communism). Apart from the fact that our dear Karl L. doesn’t actually work with any texts, this seems an obvious position to many.
This position has at least two problems. First, you may make the same point about any political and economic project: liberalism, feminism, anarchism, conservatism … at which point it becomes meaningless. Second, the whole argument assumes that Christian thought is the origin of this narrative and that everyone has borrowed it in various fashions. Crap, since that absolutises Christianity. Instead, the theological or biblical shape of this narrative is but one form it may take.
All the same, there is some connection between a Marxist theory of history and Christianity, but at an unexpected level. You find it in the forgotten pages on Max Stirner in The German Ideology, pages that constitute the engine room of historical materialism. In response to Stirner’s search for a lever of history – the ego, of which Christ is the model, minus the theological trappings – Marx and Engels develop a very different approach. The lever is not the proletariat but contradiction itself. The way modes of production crunch into other ones is through internal contradictions that eventually bring the older one undone. It is certainly a very different lever of history, but the question remains whether Marx and Engels actually develop something completely new. My sense is that they get halfway: contradiction is a novel lever of history, but it remains a lever.

In the thread on that post Boer notes that it is Ernst Bloch who "introduced eschatology into Marxism in a big way."  Hmmm.  I hope to post more concerning my own thoughts on Bloch at a later date.  Boer's essay which he links to above, Marxism and Eschatology Reconsidered, is definitely worth a read.  

1 comment:

  1. I will be looking forward to your take on the issue of eschatology. I suspect the emphasis on Benjamin and Bloch for the development of a Marxist eschatology is sure dismissing something.


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