The Psychosis of Anti-Marxism in Christianity – Otto Bauer (1930)

[First published in Die Menscheitskämpfer by Otto Bauer, 1 April 1930. His criticisms of the Christian Social party are rooted in their resistance to the rent controls and welfare programmes introduced by the socialists. (The Christian Social party of interwar Austria was also deeply anti-Semitic, its manifesto in 1918 called for defence from the ‘Jewish peril’.) Priests such as Michael Pfliegler, who were sympathetic to Otto Bauer’s ideas, nonetheless concluded that Catholics cannot join the socialist party, as a result of its anti-clerical policy. It is worth noting that the Social Democrats never attempted to secure a secularised republic, even in 1919, nor did they ever call for workers to leave the church en masse.]

The Christian-bourgeois politics of Austria has a speciality and lives off it: the slaying of Marxism. The slogan of the struggle against Marxism dominates the minds there, it is needed to reinvigorate slackening enthusiasm. This slogan works like a red cloth that can stir the blood of even the most phlegmatic petty-bourgeois. The devil of Marxism is painted on the wall so he never sees the true cause of his tragic destiny of proletarianisation, capitalism, and hence he is ready to follow the so-called Christian politicians even in the darkest confusion for the salvation of “endangered society” and for the defense of the “ancestral faith”. The fact that these petty-bourgeois – incidentally noted – have never learned anything from Marx and his life’s work does not distinguish them from most of their politicians who have also never been burdened with such knowledge, however it makes their “anti-Marxist” politics all the easier for them.

This psychosis of anti-Marxism does not remain the affair of political Christianity, lately it has spread to the other Christianity. Here as well, the old methods of struggle and slogans that were directed against socialism are recapitulated under a new company name: “Struggle against Marxism”… Marxism plays the role of the red cloth here, only this time it’s not to awaken political battle morale but Christian enthusiasm for the faith.

And what is now going on with the anti-Marxists of bourgeois and Christian shades?

There are some groups to differentiate. One is the direct political representatives of capitalist powers. To this group, Marxism is always nothing other than the social and political strivings of the workforce for recognition. Their struggle against “Marxism” is the struggle against the rights of the working people.

The second group are bourgeois politicians who are simultaneously employed as representatives of Christianity. This group is primarily concerned with bringing down their political opponents and they serve this goal unscrupulously. 

The third group are those ranks amongst the Christians who are almost swearing in their confrontation with us that they are “neither identical nor related” to both other groups. We want to include this group in the sphere of our discussion because its behaviour exposes the shallow and ineffective method of defending and upholding religious and ethical values against the modern workers’ movement.

What this group says of itself is that its “anti-Marxism” is simply about overcoming those tendencies in Marxist socialism which have resulted from its historical relation to ideological materialism and the ideas of the bourgeois enlightenment which still reverberate today.

Such intentions are nothing new at all. All this existed long before this Christian anti-Marxism. We only need to point to the religious socialist approaches that go back decades in the socialist workers’ movement. Moreover, we can simply refer to the work of those groups who not only from a religious perspective, but also from a purely ethical and scientific basis, put forward their criticisms of Marxism within the workers’ movement.

However, what sharply differentiates these groups from the new Christian anti-Marxists is that the former, standing on the basis of the socialist workers’ movement, simply want to overcome the supposed or actual errors in the science or the foundation of socialism, the Christian anti-Marxists want to overcome the socialist workers’ movement itself. They want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Is that not somewhat of an overstatement or a forgery?

Well, it’s not that difficult to prove. Religious socialists are those who want to assert religious and ethical values in socialism. Does the criticism of Christian anti-Marxists against religious socialists not concentrate on the fact that we want to fulfill our religious duties upon the basis of the socialist workers’ movement? However, such conduct towards us can only be logically explained if those criticizing desire to eliminate the existing errors in socialism by overcoming the socialist workers’ movement.

Here the fundamental error comes to light that plagues the position of Christianity towards socialism: the socialist workers’ movement is seen as a cause that is falsely presumed to have been ignited by the programme of Karl Marx. What is not seen is that the socialist workers’ movement already existed before the Communist Manifesto, that it was ignited by class misery and from a religious and ethical inheritance, that it already existed alongside the working class in their way of life and suffering. And hence this movement is born from an elementary need of its time, from fate, from history, from God; and hence its lifeblood and life forces in history will always be bigger and stronger than all theory and even persecution.

This is hence the cardinal point and this is where our ways part: for Christian anti-Marxists and Christianity as such, the socialist workers’ movement is seen as a product of a false doctrine. We see in this movement the elementary counter-movement against capitalism whose overcoming is its task and goal.

On top of this, however, it is also clear that the achievements of the socialist workers’ movement in the social, economic and political struggle of the working people are overlooked. Or what else is it, when, for example, Cardinal Piffl [1] has recently said, according to a report by the Reichspost, that the programme of Social Democracy “may well raise up some of its leaders but cannot wrest the masses of people from the misery of economic need, despite all of its promises”? The actual achievements of Social Democracy as exponents of the socialist workers’ movement are simply, flatly overlooked here, their struggle for the most primitive social and political rights, for the raising of living standards and the cultural situation of the working people is overlooked. And that is why even the historical function of the socialist workers’ movement, that it carries out even now, is overlooked. Because it defends itself now – as we have recently established – not only as a “false doctrine”, it defends itself as a result of its real position of power and the socio-political and state-political achievements of the working people that have been achieved through it.

If the Christian, as they say, and not party-political anti-Marxists, were concerned only with the struggle against an error, they would have to work with such responsible methods so as to completely preclude any damage to the position of the workers. But since they simply do not separate the alleged or actual error from the movement in their method, the responsibility has not been accepted by them. Hence the interests of working people are damaged, since in the given circumstances, there is no other noteworthy workers’ movement that faces capitalism apart from the socialist. Only capitalism profits from a weakened socialist workers’ movement.

For whoever wants to fight against the socialist workers’ movement now, there is obviously no other means than the political, even the party-political struggle against it. And that’s what we see in the Christian anti-Marxists, as they inevitably come in line with the anti-Marxist politics of the pseudo-Christian Socials. However, they can render no worse service to the Christianity they represent. You can never ever save religious and ethical values when you defend them in alliance with the pseudo-Christian Socials, the conscience of the socialist workers’ movement, and therefore the masses of working people, can never be sharpened for such values with these methods: you only widen the existing chasm.

It’s a very dangerous gambling game, the game with the last card: anti-Marxism. A dangerous gamble for the rights and ultimate liberation of the working people as much as it is for Christianity, for the religion itself.

The methods and politics of Christian anti-Marxism will lead to Christian anti-Marxists of all shades one day finding themselves between two chairs on the ground. For the socialist workers’ movement has enough vitality to give birth to a rejuvenated kind of socialism so to speak, and hence Christian anti-Marxism will only play the role of an involuntary obstetrician, perhaps its final role before its act is over.The socialist workers’ movement, it has enough power in itself that it is capable of defending and asserting religious and ethical values, it can do without the doubtful help from outside. And hence against the false slogans of the Christian anti-Marxists, we raise our own slogan for the Christians who are really serious about the assertion of religious and ethical values and about the conquest of the conscience of the socialist workers’ movement, to win it for ourselves. And our slogan, it is: Not struggle against the socialist workers’ movement, but working together in its duties as a movement for the overthrow of capitalism, the expression of religious and ethical values in it and not against it.

And that seems to be the essential Christian outlook for us.

[1] Friedrich Gustav Piffl was the Archbishop of Vienna. He was a supporter of the Christian Social party and also supported Christian trade unions and presses. After 15 July 1927, when workers set the Palace of Justice on fire, in response to the nationalist murderers of two socialists being found not guilty, the gulf between the Christian labour movement and the socialist one became fixed. The workers also set the offices of the Christian Social paper Reichspost on fire. The Christian labour movement and press applauded the executions of the rioters (eighty-nine were killed by the police) and did not condemn the murderers of the socialists. After the riots, the Christian labour movement founded a paramilitary wing Freiheitsbund against socialists.

[Translated by R. V.]