[Marxism] RE: Interview with Paul Buhle

Tony Abdo gojack10 at hotmail.com
Tue Mar 9 15:20:57 MST 2004

I found the exchange below to be particularly interesting.     In my 
experience, the religious divide of radicalism in the US has been perhaps 
the greatest impediment to marxist recruitment.    Buhle's response to the 
question highlights his respect for Christian radicalism; a respect that has 
been sorely missing within most of the marxist movement as a whole, as welll 
as within specifically the US marxist movement.     A little less overt 
hostility towards Christianity within the US socialist world would have gone 
a long way into helping to broaden the socialist movement out of its current 
narrow confines.

Experience has shown, that one of the greatest barriers to recruiting people 
to marxist socialsim in the US, is the perceived (and very real) prejudice 
and hostility of the atheistic marxist majority of comrades to the 
religiousity of possible new recruits.    In short, people feel that to 
become a marxist, they must first become an atheist, otherwise they will not 
be welcome as member of any marxist organization.     Especially in the 
South of the US, this is an immense self-inflicted obstacle that American 
marxism has thoughlessly created for itself through its myopic attitudes 
about what marxism should be about.     In short, marxism has tended to 
overly exagerate its supposed rationalism and scientific foundation at the 
expense of thoroughly impeding, for many, recruitment on their emotional 

This religious divide promoted by the  marxist movement itself, has given 
the Right a powerful weapon to encourage American rejection of any 
consideration of marxism as having any validity.    The title of that Right 
Wing classic, 'The God That Failed', really would have been more accurately 
titled... The Atheism That Failed.    That's really how Americans have read 
the content, for within the deepest part of their hearts, many see marxism 
as an atheism that functions as a false religion, as compared to 'Christ's 
love' and the Christian religion.    And Americans have favored religion, as 
opposed to atheism.

Latin American marxists as a whole, not having had so much this recent 
immigrant influence of European refugees that the US did, wisely were able 
to constrain SOMEWHAT the  creation of such an atheist/ Christian barrier to 
socialist recruitment.     US marxists, too, should be more sympatheitc to 
those that want a more spiritual world socialist movement, one that is more 
open to comrades retaining some aspects of their religion without 
condemnation or ridicule.    After all, without some 'spirituality' within 
the marxist movement, the masses will not feel welcome to oppose capitalism 
within the ranks of a marxist-led, or even a Green or anarchist-led, Left.

Tony Abdo
Question from interviewer....
In that same book, you also posed the question (referring to Marxism): "Can 
a theoretical system historically rooted in response to Victorian capitalism 
hope to come to grips with the challenges of 2000?" This is a complicated 
question, and we can broaden it and ask (which you do in your book) about 
the complicated relationship between Marxism and American radicalism 
throughout history. At the time that Marxism made its entrance on to the 
American scene in the late 19th century, it was indeed a European import, 
with European immigrants as its strongest and most orthodox adherents. This 
is obviously not to say that the basic recognitions of Marxism-the class 
struggle, exploitation, etc.-weren't grasped by the native born population, 
but that they were understood within a different cultural framework, which 
you sometimes refer to as our "common democratic sensibility". This 
"sensibility" arose from an entirely different radical tradition than that 
which Marxism emerged from; as you observed, "Native born Americans saw 
class and socialism in democratic terms", where as it was the opposite with 
most radical immigrants. Much more amorphous and less class-oriented and 
class-conscious, homegrown radicalism nevertheless carried with it as 
central the "ethical imperative of socialism", as you call it. All this 
being said, what do you see as the main tensions between Marxism and 
"homegrown" American radicalism?

Buhle's response...
This is not quite right, and perhaps I have put it a bit imprecisely, 
because the obvious racial dimensions have always added another, related 
angle to the issues involved. For a long time, Christian Socialists made the 
best anti-racists, and their role has returned intermittently, sometimes 
from the heights of the National Council of Churches (or, in hemispheric 
terms especially, from Orbis Press, and the political arms of the Maryknoll 
Fathers). African American participation in leftwing political movements has 
practically always had roots in the Black church. Pacifism, related to these 
matters-interconnected with Empire-and going beyond them somewhat to global 
war and peace, is likewise an ethical, philosophical position with roots 
homegrown. Immigrant Marxists, their own backgrounds in free thought 
societies, had enormous conceptual difficulty valuing with anything 
religious. Where Euro-radicalism persisted over generations-especially among 
Jewish Americans-the strains of religious radicalism were (and are) thin 
compared to politically conservative trends.

I like to say, playfully, that the gentiles need socialist religious 
doctrines while Jews are free to be as atheistic as they want. But "atheism" 
has never had the strength of radical "spiritualism," the evocation of 
nature and of human possibility that was never absent from Jewish secular 
socialism either.

Find things fast with the new MSN Toolbar – includes FREE pop-up blocking! 

More information about the Marxism mailing list