William Blake

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Fri Dec 22 23:56:58 MST 2000


William Blake wrote in "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell": "Truth can
never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd."  I
believe that Blake spoke truthfully here.  While Marxists may
understand religion, "spirituality," etc. -- critically & yet
sympathetically -- we do not see them as _truth_, and that is why we
are not believers in them.  If we understand & of necessity believe
the truth of Marxism, we cannot but approach religion,
"spirituality," etc. in the following fashion: "it is always
necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the
economic conditions of production...and the...ideological forms in
which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out" (Marx,
_A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy_, NY:
International Publishers, 1970, p. 21).  Religion, "spirituality,"
etc. are among the ideological forms in which men become conscious of
material conflict and fight it out.

Peasant revolts in pre-capitalist times often were led by those who
spoke in the language of mysticism & chiliasm; lived ascetically; and
longed to bring about the second coming of (what was thought of as )
primitive (Christian) equality.  Many of today's young anarchists,
Greens, etc. remind me of Thomas Muenzer, Anabaptists, etc. that
Engels discusses in _The Peasant War in Germany_, though today's
youths are not as fervent as their feudal forerunners:

*****   Muenzer at that time was still theologian before everything
else. He directed his attacks almost exclusively against the priests.
He did not, however, preach quiet debate and peaceful progress, as
Luther had begun to do at that time, but he continued the early
violent preachments of Luther, appealing to the princes of Saxony and
the people to rise in arms against the Roman priests.  "Is it not
Christ who said: 'I have come to bring, not peace, but the sword'?
What can you [the princes of Saxony] do with that sword?  You can do
only one thing: If you wish to be the servants of God, you must drive
out and destroy the evil ones who stand in the way of the Gospel.
Christ ordered very earnestly (Luke, 19, 27): 'But these mine
enemies, that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither,
and slay them before me.'  Do not resort to empty assertions that the
power of God could do it without aid of our sword, since then it
would have to rust in its sheath.  We must destroy those who stand in
the way of God's revelation, we must do it mercilessly, as Hezekiah,
Cyrus, Josiah, Daniel and Elias destroyed the priests of Baal, else
the Christian Church will never come back to its origins.  We must
uproot the weeds in God's vineyard at the time when the crops are
ripe.  God said in the Fifth Book of Moses, 7, 'Thou shalt not show
mercy unto the idolators, but ye shall break down their altars, dash
in pieces their graven images and burn them with fire that I shall
not be wroth at you.'"  But these appeals to the princes were of no
avail, whereas the revolutionary agitation among the people grew day
by day.  Muenzer, whose ideas became more definitely shaped and more
courageous, now definitely relinquished the middle-class reformation,
and at the same time appeared as a direct political agitator.

His theologic-philosophic doctrine attacked all the main points not
only of Catholicism but of Christianity as such.  Under the cloak of
Christian forms, he preached a kind of pantheism, which curiously
resembles the modern speculative mode of contemplation, and at times
even taught open atheism.  He repudiated the assertion that the Bible
was the only infallible revelation.  The only living revelation, he
said, was reason, a revelation which existed among all peoples at all
times.  To contrast the Bible with reason, he maintained, was to kill
the spirit by the latter, for the Holy Spirit of which the Bible
spoke was not a thing outside of us; the Holy Spirit was our reason.
Faith, he said, was nothing else but reason become alive in man,
therefore, he said, pagans could also have faith.  Through this
faith, through reason come to life, man became godlike and blessed,
he said.  Heaven was to be sought in this life, not beyond, and it
was, according to Muenzer, the task of the believers to establish
Heaven, the kingdom of God, here on earth.  As there is no Heaven in
the beyond, he so there is no Hell in the beyond, and no damnation,
and there are no devils but the evil desires and cravings of man.
Christ, he said, was a man, as we are, a prophet and a teacher, and
his "Lord's Supper" is nothing but a plain meal of commemoration
wherein bread and wine are being consumed with mystic additions.

Muenzer preached these doctrines mostly in a covert fashion, under
the cloak of Christian phraseology which the new philosophy was
compelled to utilise for some time.  The fundamental heretic idea,
however, is easily discernible in all his writings, and it is obvious
that the biblical cloak was for him of much less importance than it
was for many a disciple of Hegel in modern times.  Still, there is a
distance of three hundred years between Muenzer and modern philosophy.

Muenzer's political doctrine followed his revolutionary religious
conceptions very closely, and as his theology reached far beyond the
current conceptions of his time, so his political doctrine went
beyond existing social and political conditions.  As Muenzer's
philosophy of religion touched upon atheism, so his political
programme touched upon communism, and there is more than one
communist sect of modern times which, on the eve of the February
Revolution, did not possess a theoretical equipment as rich as that
of Muenzer of the Sixteenth Century.  His programme, less a
compilation of the demands of the then existing plebeians than a
genius's anticipation of the conditions for the emancipation of the
proletarian element that had just begun to develop among the
plebeians, demanded the immediate establishment of the kingdom of
God, of the prophesied millennium on earth.  This was to be
accomplished by the return of the church to its origins and the
abolition of all institutions that were in conflict with what Muenzer
conceived as original Christianity, which, in fact, was the idea of a
very modern church.  By the kingdom of God, Muenzer understood
nothing else than a state of society without class differences,
without private property, and without Superimposed state powers
opposed to the members of society. All existing authorities, as far
as they did not submit and join the revolution, he taught, must be
overthrown, all work and all property must be shared in common, and
complete equality must be introduced.  In his conception, a union of
the people was to be organised to realise this programme, not only
throughout Germany, but throughout entire Christendom.  Princes and
nobles were to be invited to join, and should they refuse, the union
was to overthrow or kill them, with arms in hand, at the first
opportunity.   *****

Unfortunately, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, many of the
masses & leftist intellectuals alike have not made much progress
since Thomas Muenzer, whose doctrine was far ahead of the standards
of his days.  Asceticism still attracts leftists, just as it did in
the sixteenth century....A reflection of our objective political
weakness?

Lastly, if one really wants God, "spirituality," and all that, there
is no reason why one should make a detour through Roy Bhaskar -- one
might as well abandon historical materialism & convert to a religion
of one's choice or else build a new one.  Religion _can_ be a
progressive force, as in the case of liberation theology for
instance, but I think it takes _religious belief_ in the _truth_ of
religion -- instead of a historical materialist belief that religion
is a form of _ideology_ -- to make religion _one's strength rather
than weakness_ (recall Gramsci here).  "Dip him in the river who
loves water," as Blake says, which is also the way to show _respect
to believers_, be they in religion or historical materialism.

Yoshie





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