In my first column on this topic on September 16, I referenced my intention via study and discussions with others, “to try to pinpoint what is at the root of the failure, by and large, of both organized religion and organized Marxism/socialism to do what Marx called for in words inscribed on his grave: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.’”
I’ve done some thinking about this as I’ve been moving forward with this personal project. Believing that input and constructive criticism from others is always a good thing, I’m going to share my current thinking and invite others to respond.
After reading my father’s Bible from beginning to end a number of months ago, I re-read Foundations of Christianity, a Marxist analysis of Christianity by Karl Kautsky written in 1908. Kautsky at the time was one of the leading theoreticians of the European socialist movement and a leader of the German Social Democratic Party.
There were many things I appreciated about Kautsky’s analysis, but there were aspects of it that have not held up as human history has unfolded, in particular, Kautsky’s view of religion as a “backwards” thing of the past of no use for those interested in forward progress.
Here’s a sentence which sums up this view of religion: “the religious mode of thought was superseded by the methods of modern science, with the result that it [religion] is cherished only by backwards classes and strata of the population, or backward regions, and may not in any manner continue to serve as an envelope for new social goals.” (p. 171)
Tell that to Pope Francis! Or even Fidel Castro, if he was still alive [see part one].
So one candidate for the root of our desperate civilizational crisis in this time of climate disruption and massive inequality is the historic antagonism between religion and scientific socialism.
But there has been a change over the years. For decades, since the 60’s at least, there have been substantive interactions between religionists and socialists, and there is much more appreciation by both sides of the need for unity in action, if not ideological or theological unity, in the struggle against injustice and for a new world.
Another reason for our situation is the continuing, if weakening, hold of the worst cultural values of capitalism: individual advancement before the common good, greed and power-seeking, domination over others for private gain, selfish individualism, interwoven with and supporting white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and other backwards ideologies and practices.
The fact that a person as retrograde as Donald Trump could be elected President is a sure sign, a maddening sign, that US culture, and the politics that come with it, are seriously infected with the worst aspects of capitalism.
However, there’s another side to this. Prior to Trump’s electoral college, not popular, victory, black man Barack Obama was President for eight years. Obama was not a socialist; he was a liberal, unapologetic backer of capitalism, and his overall record was very mixed. But the fact that he could be elected and then re-elected President in the United States of America was a sign that there are cultural and political changes happening at the grassroots.
Recent polling about attitudes toward “capitalism” and “socialism” reinforce this. The Washington Post reported on a poll in early 2016 which showed that, among the upcoming millennial generation, socialism is seen more favorably than capitalism by 43 to 32 percent. 30% of US Americans of all ages hold that view.
The fact is that a different kind of movement is building in the US and elsewhere for fundamental social change. And because the US is a wealthy society, it is practically possible for that movement, when it wins, to rapidly take steps toward a much more just distribution of wealth and power, much healthier social and economic relationships based on cooperation instead of individualistic competition, and protection for and healing of our threatened climate and environment as a top-level priority.
How are we going to win, and build upon that win to transform society?
There are many aspects of a winning strategy, but the one that I believe is most fundamental, the one that I have come to believe is the key link to the social transformation process so urgently needed, is this: building and deepening a way of working together and developing organizations which is collaborative, respectful, democratic to its core and which, as a result, is truly transformative, built to last.
I have been a community and political activist for over 49 years, and so many times I have experienced groups falling apart or blowing up because people just don’t know how to give good leadership, or how to work in a collaborative way, or how to submerge ego on behalf of the common good, or because of personal racism or sexism, all of which ultimately derail the best intentions. And since there is no hope, zero, for transformative change without effective organizations that are deeply rooted among our peoples, it is essential that we identify this problem as fundamental if we are to win.
That’s what I think, as of today, is the key to our making the kind of changes in our world that must be made if our children and grandchildren and those coming after them are to have a world worth living in and living for.
Do you agree?
Ted Glick was a draft resister during the Vietnam War who has been an activist and organizer on many issues since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at www.tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.