Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution?

The nineteenth century held fast to its faith in progress as the new form of human hope, and it continued to consider reason and freedom as the guiding stars to be followed along the path of hope. Nevertheless, the increasingly rapid advance of technical development and the industrialization connected with it soon gave rise to an entirely new social situation: there emerged a class of industrial workers and the so-called “industrial proletariat”, whose dreadful living conditions Friedrich Engels described alarmingly in 1845. For his readers, the conclusion is clear: this cannot continue; a change is necessary. Yet the change would shake up and overturn the entire structure of bourgeois society. After the bourgeois revolution of 1789, the time had come for a new, proletarian revolution: progress could not simply continue in small, linear steps. A revolutionary leap was needed. Karl Marx took up the rallying call, and applied his incisive language and intellect to the task of launching this major new and, as he thought, definitive step in history towards salvation—towards what Kant had described as the “Kingdom of God”. Once the truth of the hereafter had been rejected, it would then be a question of establishing the truth of the here and now. The critique of Heaven is transformed into the critique of earth, the critique of theology into the critique of politics. Progress towards the better, towards the definitively good world, no longer comes simply from science but from politics—from a scientifically conceived politics that recognizes the structure of history and society and thus points out the road towards revolution, towards all-encompassing change. With great precision, albeit with a certain onesided bias, Marx described the situation of his time, and with great analytical skill he spelled out the paths leading to revolution—and not only theoretically: by means of the Communist Party that came into being from the Communist Manifesto of 1848, he set it in motion. His promise, owing to the acuteness of his analysis and his clear indication of the means for radical change, was and still remains an endless source of fascination. Real revolution followed, in the most radical way in Russia.
   Spe Salvi 20 
Reflection - I think, in light of the current protests going on in various cities, that it would be good to reflect with the Holy Father from this part of his encyclical on hope on the nature of progress, revolution, and our response to social unrest and injustice.
I have heard (obviously, "Occupy Combermere" is a no-go so far, so no chances to observe directly!) that there is a fair amount of Marxist literature and rhetoric present in these protests. I do realize that the organizers and the attendees are coming at the situation from a host of different perspectives, but nonetheless it does seem that there is a revolutionary current at least present enough to be noticeable there.
I'm not sure what to make of that. Marxism came out of the deep sufferings of the Industrial Revolution and the suppression of the working class of Europe, yet was more widely embraced by the intelligentsia and cultural elites of the day. The phenomenon of persistent Marxism into the present day, besides being evidence of a truly alarming historical amnesia, bears witness to something deep in the human soul, I think.
We want a world without suffering. We want justice. We want things to be what they should be. And we know the present state of affairs is not how it should be.
So - tear everything down! Reduce it to rubble! The revolutionary impulse goes deep in us - I think it actually has deep connections to residual Christianity and the promise of the kingdom.
But, a kingdom without Christ. Justice without a Judge. An end to suffering imposed by human fiat, not by the transforming power of Love.
It doesn't work. It never has. And it has brought calamitous suffering and evil in its wake, wherever and whenever it has been tried.
At the same time, we who are Christians, who do (we say) love Justice and long for the kingdom and have compassion for the suffering - we have to do more than just critique and mock the OWS movement. They are longing for something, and at least some of them are looking to, of all people, Karl Marx for answers.
We have another answer, and so I will be continuing to lay out the Holy Father's vision of things over the next few posts. It seems timely.