Christians and Marxists – Jean-Marie Domenach (1972)

Jean-Marie Domenach

[Originally published in Esprit Nouvelle Série, No. 415 (7/8) (JUILLET-AOUT 1972), pp. 86-87]

[Wiki: Jean-Marie Domenach (13 February 1922 – 5 July 1997) was a French writer and intellectual. He was noted as a left-wing and Catholic thinker. After Emmanuel Mounier’s death, he took on the role of editor for the left-Catholic journal Esprit.]

Four hundred “Christians for socialism” met at the end of April in Santiago, Chile, and have published a declaration, the essential points of which are given in the June issue of International Catholic Information [Informations catholiques internationales].  

We will come back soon to the “theology of liberation” which has developed these past few years in Latin America and which underlies this declaration.

For the moment, we will remember some essential points. This declaration situates itself at the antipodes of the lyricism customary to Christian revolutions; it demands a “critical theory”, a scientific analysis of “structural mechanisms”; it denounces the humanist pathos which has held sway for years in supposedly advanced Christian circles (I only regret that it implicates personalism in a “culture which claims to defend individual liberty, private property, conscience, of love limited to interpersonal relations”;  whoever has read [even] a little of Mounier knows that he spent the better part of his energy denouncing this mystification of personalism and [worked] to establish the communal basis for engagement and social life; there is a disturbing polemical distortion.) 

What bothers me in this text, is that it equates this scientific analysis with Marxism. Now, it is true that Marxism gives to the popular struggle in Latin America a radical perspective, it is not at all demonstrated that it gives a correct analysis of the situation. Are these Christians rallying to the “class struggle” as a sort of sociological dogma, or as a strategic possibility of designating enemies and friends? The elucidation of the class struggle is an essential element for the definition of a politics, but it is not a sufficient element, as the experience of the European workers’ parties in the 1930s proves. Armed fully as they were with the theory of class struggle, the Marxists of many countries — the most learned, the German Marxists  — took a long time to see clearly, and their errors helped Nazism take power.

One understands that Latin Americans neglect such a distant event. Just as they are weary of lessons from Europe. I admit less easily that Europeans encourage them there.

Fr. [Giulio] Girardi, who is Italian, declared, commenting on the document: “It is a question of noting that, historically, in the opinion of revolutionaries around the world, it is this (Marxist) perspective which reveals itself to be the most operative and which can only be surpassed by those who are in a position to propose another. It is not a question, moreover, of identifying the Marxism carried out under this name in the countries of Eastern Europe, which they have self-evidently betrayed on essential points[.]” This clause is curious: in the name of which Marxism is Fr. Girardi declaring as traitors to Marxism regimes that the majority of “revolutionaries around the world” effectively recognize as Marxist (unless you exclude from these revolutionaries the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the majority of Communist Parties around the world)?

It is of a certain Marxism which Fr. Girardi speaks, and this Marxism is less “scientific” than he pretends, or else it would contain a serious analysis of the Stalinist deviation, and analysis which would inform us on the relationship which can exist between Marxism and Stalinism, and which would not be useless for the future of socialism in Latin America. 

We feel joy in seeing these Christians enter, without reserve, in the struggle alongside the poor and oppressed, and declare that “the real-life presence of the faith in the very heart of revolutionary praxis provides for a fruitful interaction.”* But we also feel disappointment in observing Christians, once again, rallying to Marxism as if it were scientific truth–giving to the one who adopts it the lucidity necessary for commitment, 20 years after many European Christians, moved by this same generosity, gave their blind support to Stalinism. [Probably a reference to the “chrétiens progressistes” movement in France, l’Union des chrétiens progressistes, etc.] The errors committed long ago should not hinder Christians who claim to be socialists from attempting to understand the world globally and freely instead of adhering to a dogma. Christians were sorely mistaken, this is true, but the Marxists were as well.

J.-M. D.

* This is not a direct translation of the French text; rather, it is taken from the Final Document of the Convention which can be found in Christians and socialism : documentation of the Christians for Socialism movement in Latin America (Orbis Books, 1975).