BY A STAFF REPORTER
MARXISM cheats the hopes on which it climbs to power and betrays its promise of rescue from alienation, Fr. Peter Hebblethwaite, Si., told the London Newman Circle last week. He was speaking on "The Non-Development of Marxism."
He quoted from Charles Taylor one of the contributors to Slant Symposium, who said: "The inadequacy of Marxism is that its so.ation is based on an illusion about the human condition.
"The promise that it holds out of complete reconciliation of men to other men, his creation and himself, all in one act is, unfulfillable.
"All other criticisms of Marxism, against its atheism, its inability to incorporate what is valid in individualism, its one-sided emphasis on work, its ultimate lack of content, find their validity in this root."
Fr. Hebblethwaite said that Marxism was an elusive subject with all the consistency of plasticine or the smile on the face of a Cheshire cat. It was naive to confuse Maxism and Marxists with the Cornmunist party, but it was equally naive to divorce entirely one's Marxism from the Communist party.
In this talk, he said, he was paying particular attention to the non-development — or better, arrested development — of Marxism as it was proclaimed and inculcated by the Communist parties in Europe, both East and West.
He was doing this because this was what he knew about, because whatever one said about the Communist Party it held effective sway over the destinies of millions of people.
SIGNAL FAILURE As an analysis of what was wrong with existing societies, Marxism had considerable merit and even more plausibility. But it was incomparably less plausible and relevant in saying what should happen after the revolution had taken place. In other words, it was better at diagnosis than prescription.
Fr. Hebblethwaite showed by examples that Marxism had signally failed to develop in Europe. He was as in favour of dialogue with Marxism as the next man, provided it was really dialogue and not collapse or surrender.
He quoted the French writer Camus as saying dialogue was only possible between people who remained what they were and spoke the truth.
The lesson of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was that there was only one road to Socialism, and where all else failed it would be imposed by force of arms. Soviet imperialism was still essentially what it was in the days of Stalin. What had been betrayed was Marxism, which was poised for development and then stifled.
He instanced Communist thinkers such as Garaudy. Kolokowski and Schaff. who had tried to develop and humanise official Marxism and had failed.
The problem of every thinking Marxist was whether Stalinism, which everyone was agreed must be rejected in theory, was the aberration of a demented, power-hungry individual who distorted for his own ends the whole movement of the revolution.
DESPICABLE STALIN Or was there something in the whole movement which made the emergence of a Stalin not impossible, or indeed likely?
If it was likely that, given the system, a Stalin would emerge, then the system was as despicable as the man it produced. But if, on the other hand, you attributed the distortion to an exceptionally paranoiac individual, Stalin, then you had provided a most un-Marxist explanation.
The principal elements of Stalinism, maintained Fr. Hebblethwaite, were the substitution of the party for the working class, the provision of theoretical justification for repression of the very people in whose name the revolution was made and the brutal, enforced industrialisation of the country.
Fr. Hebblethwa ire then dealt with the emergence of the "Christian Marxist" movement among intelligent Christians. He did not agree that Marxism could be reduced to a technique for the ordering of society.
Historically it had presented itself as something else, and should be respected in its integrity. Not to do so would be to produce confusion.
SECULAR CHRISTIANITY He suggested that the best way to state the relationship between Christianity and Marxism was to say Marxism was a secularised version of Christianity. This would explain why at this particular period of history, in spite of Marxism's disappointing record, it interested Christian intellectuals.
Its fatal weakness was that it was based on an illusion about the human condition. Also, Marxism being strong on diagnosis and weak in positive content, therefore provided an explanatory tool for analysing situations.
It had also always been the opium of the intellectuals, since it dealt with their unhappy consciences and sense of guilt, particularly if they were middle class.
If one could be more relaxed about it and sec Marxism as one of the philosophies which have contributed to human understanding of social and historical processes, then there might be hope.
As a microscope for focussing the aspects of history and social processes, Marxism was indispensable. As a pair of contact lenses filtering one's perception of the world, it was inadmissible.