2.22.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Populist Party Platform, 1892.
2. Documents relating to Leo Tolstoy, 1890s.
3. Terry Eagleton, 2011.

woman senate politics elections

Numero Uno

The conditions which surround us best justify our cooperation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench.1

The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery.  The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists.  The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down, and they are rapidly degenerating into European conditions.  The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty.  From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.  The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders; a vast public debt payable in legal-tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.

Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor, and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry. A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.

We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed together to ignore, in the coming campaign, ever issue but one. They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of the usurers may all be lost sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires.

Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the ”plain people,” with which class it originated. We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution; to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. . . .

Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is not precedent in the history of the world; our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months, be exchanged for billions of dollars’ worth of commodities consumed in their production; the existing currency supply is wholly inadequate to make this exchange; the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the impoverishment of the producing class. We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to correct these evils by wise and reasonable legislation, in accordance with the terms of our platform. We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teaching of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land. . . .

We declare, therefore—

First.—That the union of the labor forces of the United States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual; may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the republic and the uplifting of mankind.Second.—Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. ”If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” The interests of rural and civil labor are the same; their enemies are identical.

Third.—We believe that the time has come when the railroad corporations will either own the people or the people must own the railroads; and should the government enter upon the work of owning and managing all railroads, we should favor an amendment to the constitution by which all persons engaged in the government service shall be placed under a civil-service regulation of the most rigid character, so as to prevent the increase of the power of the national administration by the use of such additional government employees.

FINANCE.—We demand a national currency, safe, sound, and flexible issued by the general government only, a full legal tender for all debts, public and private, and that without the use of banking corporations; a just, equitable, and efficient means of distribution direct to the people, at a tax not to exceed 2 per cent, per annum, to be provided as set forth in the sub-treasury plan of the Farmers’ Alliance, or a better system; also by payments in discharge of its obligations for public improvements.

  1. We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
  2. We demand that the amount of circulating medium2 be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.
  3. We demand a graduated income tax.
  4. We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered. We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.

TRANSPORTATION.—Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph and telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.

LAND.—The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.

Expressions of Sentiments
Your Committee on Platform and Resolutions beg leave unanimously to report the following: Whereas, Other questions have been presented for our consideration, we hereby submit the following, not as a part of the Platform of the People’s Party, but as resolutions expressive of the sentiment of this Convention.

  • RESOLVED, That we demand a free ballot and a fair count in all elections and pledge ourselves to secure it to every legal voter without Federal Intervention, through the adoption by the States of the unperverted Australian or secret ballot system.
  • RESOLVED, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.
  • RESOLVED, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.
  • RESOLVED, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system, which opens our ports to the pauper and criminal classes of the world and crowds out our wage-earners; and we denounce the present ineffective laws against contract labor, and demand the further restriction of undesirable emigration.
  • RESOLVED, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor, and demand a rigid enforcement of the existing eight-hour law on Government work, and ask that a penalty clause be added to the said law.
  • RESOLVED, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system, as a menace to our liberties, and we demand its abolition. . . .
  • RESOLVED, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people and the reform press the legislative system known as the initiative and referendum.
  • RESOLVED, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice-President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.
  • RESOLVED, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.
  • RESOLVED, That this convention sympathizes with the Knights of Labor and their righteous contest with the tyrannical combine of clothing manufacturers of Rochester, and declare it to be a duty of all who hate tyranny and oppression to refuse to purchase the goods made by the said manufacturers, or to patronize any merchants who sell such goods.”  Populist Party Platform, 1892
Ilya Repin - Tolstoy
Ilya Repin – Tolstoy

Numero Dos“[missing introduction about the Gates of Hell not prevailing against the holy Church]In our days, God has permitted a new false teacher to appear – Count Leo Tolstoy.  A writer well known to the world, Russian by birth, Orthodox by baptism and education, Count Tolstoy, under the seduction of his intellectual pride, has insolently risen against the Lord and His Christ and against His holy heritage, and has publicly, in the sight of all men, repudiated the Orthodox Mother Church, which reared and educated him, and has devoted his literary activity, and the talent given to him by God, to disseminating among the people teachings repugnant to Christ and the Church, and to destroying in the minds and hearts of men their national faith, the Orthodox faith, which has been confirmed by the universe, and in which our forefathers lived and were saved, and to which till now Holy Russia has held and in which it has been strong.

[missing list of offences]

Therefore the Church does not reckon him as its member, and cannot so reckon him, until he repents and resumes his communion with her.  To this we bear witness to-day before the whole Church, for the confirmation of the faithful and the reproof of those who have gone astray, especially for the fresh reproof of Count Tolstoy himself.  Many of those near to him, retaining their faith, reflect with sorrow that he, at the end of his days, remains without faith in God and in our Lord and Saviour, having rejected the blessings and prayers of the Church and all communion with her.” Decree of Excommunication of Leo Tolstoy, Russian Orthodox Church; 1901

                         “You ask me:1. Should people who are not particularly advanced mentally seek an expression in words for the truths of the inner life, as comprehended by them?

2. Is it worth while in one’s inner life to strive after complete consciousness?

3. What are we to be guided by in moments of struggle and wavering, that we may know whether it is indeed our conscience that is speaking in us, or whether it is reflection, which is bribed by our weakness? (The third question I for brevity’s sake expressed in my own words, without having changed its meaning, I hope.)

These three questions in my opinion reduce themselves to one,—the second, because, if it is not necessary for us to strive after a full consciousness of our inner life, it will be also unnecessary and impossible for us to express in words the truths which we have grasped, and in moments of wavering we shall have nothing to be guided by, in order to ascertain whether it is our conscience or a false reflection that is speaking within us.  But if it is necessary to strive after the greatest consciousness accessible to human reason (whatever this reason may be), it is also necessary to express the truths grasped by us in words, and it is these expressed truths which have been carried into full consciousness that we have to be guided by in moments of struggle and wavering.  And so I answer your radical question in the affirmative, namely, that every man, for the fulfillment of his destiny upon earth and for the attainment of the true good (the two things go together), must strain all the forces of his mind for the purpose of elucidating to himself those religious bases by which he lives, that is, the meaning of his life.

I have frequently met among illiterate earth-diggers, who have to figure out cubic contents, the wide-spread conviction that the mathematical calculation is deceptive, and that it is not to be trusted. Either because they do not know any mathematics, or because the men who figured things out mathematically for them had frequently consciously or unconsciously deceived them, the opinion that mathematics was inadequate and useless for the calculation of measures has established itself as an undoubted truth which they think it is even unnecessary to prove. Just such an opinion has established itself among, I shall say it boldly, irreligious men,—an opinion that reason cannot solve any religious questions,—that the application of reason to these questions is the chief cause of errors, that the solution of religious questions by means of reason is criminal pride.

I say this, because the doubt, expressed in your questions, as to whether it is necessary to strive after consciousness in our religious convictions, can be based only on this supposition, namely, that reason cannot be applied to the solution of religious questions. However, such a supposition is as strange and obviously false as the supposition that calculation cannot settle any mathematical questions.

God has given man but one tool for the cognition of himself and his relation to the world,—there is no other,—and this tool is reason, and suddenly he is told that he can use his reason for the elucidation of his domestic, economic, political, scientific, artistic questions, but not for the elucidation of what it is given him for. It turns[463] out that for the elucidation of the most important truths, of those on which his whole life depends, a man must by no means employ reason, but must recognize these truths as beyond reason, whereas beyond reason a man cannot cognize anything. They say, “Find it out, through revelation, faith.” But a man cannot even believe outside of reason. If a man believes in this, and not in that, he does so only because his reason tells him that he ought to believe in this, and not to believe in that. To say that a man should not be guided by reason is the same as saying to a man, who in a dark underground room is carrying a lamp, that, to get out from this underground room and find his way, he ought to put out his lamp and be guided by something different from the light.

But, perhaps, I shall be told, as you say in your letter, that not all men are endowed with a great mind and with a special ability for expressing their thoughts, and that, therefore, an awkward expression of their thoughts concerning religion may lead to error. To this I will answer in the words of the Gospel, “What is hidden from the wise is revealed to babes.” This saying is not an exaggeration and not a paradox, as people generally judge of those utterances of the Gospel which do not please them, but the assertion of a most simple and unquestionable truth, which is, that to every being in the world a law is given, which this being must follow, and that for the cognition of this law every being is endowed with corresponding organs. And so every man is endowed with reason, and in this reason there is revealed to him the law which he must follow. This law is hidden only from those who do not want to follow it and who, in order not to follow it, renounce reason and, instead of using their reason for the cognition of the truth, use for this purpose the indications, taken upon faith, of people like themselves, who also reject reason.

But the law which a man must follow is so simple[464] that it is accessible to any child, the more so since a man has no longer any need of discovering the law of his life. Men who lived before him discovered and expressed it, and all a man has to do is to verify them with his reason, to accept or not to accept the propositions which he finds expressed in the tradition, that is, not as people, who wish not to fulfil the law, advise us to do, by verifying reason through tradition, but by verifying tradition through reason. Tradition may be from men, and false, but reason is certainly from God, and cannot be false. And so, for the cognition and the expression of truth, there is no need of any especial prominent capacity, but only of the faith that reason is not only the highest divine quality of man, but also the only tool for the cognition of truth.

A special mind and gifts are not needed for the cognition and exposition of the truth, but for the invention and exposition of the lie. Having once departed from the indications of reason, men heap up and take upon faith, generally in the shape of laws, revelations, dogmas, such complicated, unnatural, and contradictory propositions that, in order to expound them and harmonize them with the lie, there is actually a need of astuteness of mind and of a special gift. We need only think of a man of our world, educated in the religious tenets of any Christian profession,—Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant,—who wants to elucidate to himself the religious tenets inculcated upon him since childhood, and to harmonize them with life,—what a complicated mental labour he must go through in order to harmonize all the contradictions which are found in the profession inoculated in him by his education: God, the Creator and the good, created evil, punishes people, and demands redemption, and so forth, and we profess the law of love and of forgiveness, and we punish, wage war, take away the property from poor people, and so forth, and so forth.

It is for the unravelling of these contradictions, or[465] rather, for the concealment of them from ourselves, that a great mind and special gifts are needed; but for the discovery of the law of our life, or, as you express it, in order to bring our faith into full consciousness, no special mental gifts are needed,—all that is necessary is not to admit anything that is contrary to reason, not to reject reason, religiously to guard reason, and to believe in nothing else. If the meaning of a man’s life presents itself to him indistinctly, that does not prove that reason is of no use for the elucidation of this meaning, but only this, that too much of what is irrational has been taken upon faith, and that it is necessary to reject everything which is not confirmed by reason.

And so my answer to your fundamental question, as to whether it is necessary to strive after consciousness in our inner life, is this, that this is the most necessary and important work of our life.  It is necessary and important because the only rational meaning of our life consists in the fulfillment of the will of God who sent us into this life.  But the will of God is not recognized by any special miracle, by the writing of the law on tablets with God’s finger, or by the composition of an infallible book with the aid of the Holy Ghost, or by the infallibility of some holy person or of an assembly of men,—but only by the activity of the reason of all men who in deeds and words transmit to one another the truths which have become more and more elucidated to their consciousness.  This cognition has never been and never will be complete, but is constantly increased with the movement of humanity: the longer we live, the more clearly do we recognize God’s will and, consequently, what we ought to do for its fulfillment.  And so I think that the elucidation by any man (no matter how small he himself and others may consider him to be—it is the little ones who are great) of the whole religious truth, as it is accessible to him, and its expression in words (since the expression in words is the one unquestionable symptom of a complete clearness of ideas) is one of the most important and most sacred duties of man.

I shall be very much pleased if my answer shall satisfy you even in part. …

Dear Sir:—You write to me asking me to express myself in respect to the United States of North America ‘in the interests of Christian consistency and true peace,’ and express the hope that ‘the nations will soon awaken to the one means of securing national peace.’

I harbour the same hope.  I harbour the same hope, because the blindness in our time of the nations that extol patriotism, bring up their young generations in the superstition of patriotism, and, at the same time, do not wish for the inevitable consequences of patriotism,—war,—has, it seems to me, reached such a last stage that the simplest reflection, which begs for utterance in the mouth of every unprejudiced man, is sufficient, in order that men may see the crying contradiction in which they are.

Frequently, when you ask children which they will choose of two things which are incompatible, but which they want alike, they answer, ‘Both.’

‘Which do you want,—to go out driving or to stay at home?’—’Both,—go out driving and stay at home.’

Just so the Christian nations answer the question which life puts to them, as to which they will choose, patriotism or peace, they answer ‘Both patriotism and peace,’ though it is as impossible to unite patriotism with peace, as at the same time to go out driving and stay at home.

The other day there arose a difference between the United States and England concerning the borders of Venezuela.  Salisbury for some reason did not agree to something; Cleveland wrote a message to the Senate; from either side were raised patriotic warlike cries; a panic ensued upon ‘Change; people lost millions of pounds and of dollars; Edison announced that he would invent engines with which it would be possible to kill more men in an hour than Attila had killed in all his wars, and both nations began energetically to arm themselves for war. But because, simultaneously with these preparations for war, both in England and in America, all kinds of literary men, princes, and statesmen began to admonish their respective governments to abstain from war, saying that the subject under discussion was not sufficiently important to begin a war for, especially between two related Anglo-Saxon nations, speaking the same language, who ought not to war among themselves, but ought calmly to govern others; or because all kinds of bishops, archdeacons, canons prayed and preached concerning the matter in all the churches; or because neither side considered itself sufficiently prepared,—it happened that there was no war just then.  And people calmed down.

But a person has to have too little perspicacity not to see that the causes which now are leading to a conflict between England and America have remained the same, and that, if even the present conflict shall be settled without a war, there will inevitably to-morrow or the day after appear other conflicts, between England and Russia, between England and Turkey, in all possible permutations, as they arise every day, and one of these will lead to war.

If two armed men live side by side, having been impressed from childhood with the idea that power, wealth,[471] and glory are the highest virtues, and that, therefore, to acquire power, wealth, and glory by means of arms, to the detriment of other neighbouring possessors, is a very praiseworthy matter, and if at the same time there is no moral, religious, or political restraint for these men, is it not evident that such people will always fight, that the normal relation between them will be war? and that, if such people, having clutched one another, have separated for awhile, they have done so only, as the French proverb says, “pour mieux sauter,” that is, they have separated to take a better run, to throw themselves with greater fury upon one another?

Strange is the egotism of private individuals, but the egotists of private life are not armed, do not consider it right either to prepare or use arms against their adversaries; the egotism of private individuals is under the control of the political power and of public opinion. A private person who with gun in his hand takes away his neighbour’s cow, or a desyatína of his crop, will immediately be seized by a policeman and put into prison. Besides, such a man will be condemned by public opinion,—he will be called a thief and robber. It is quite different with the states: they are all armed,—there is no power over them, except the comical attempts at catching a bird by pouring some salt on its tail,—attempts at establishing international congresses, which, apparently, will never be accepted by the powerful states (who are armed for the very purpose that they may not pay any attention to any one), and, above all, public opinion, which rebukes every act of violence in a private individual, extols, raises to the virtue of patriotism every appropriation of what belong to others, for the increase of the power of the country.

Open the newspapers for any period you may wish, and at any moment you will see the black spot,—the cause of every possible war: now it is Korea, now[472] the Pamir, now the lands in Africa, now Abyssinia, now Turkey, now Venezuela, now the Transvaal. The work of the robbers does not stop for a moment, and here and there a small war, like an exchange of shots in the cordon, is going on all the time, and the real war can and will begin at any moment.

If an American wishes the preferential grandeur and well-being of America above all other nations, and the same is desired for his state by an Englishman, and a Russian, and a Turk, and a Dutchman, and an Abyssinian, and a citizen of Venezuela and of the Transvaal, and an Armenian, and a Pole, and a Bohemian, and all of them are convinced that these desires need not only not be concealed or repressed, but should be a matter of pride and be developed in themselves and in others; and if the greatness and well-being of one country or nation cannot be obtained except to the detriment of another nation, frequently of many countries and nations,—how can war be avoided?

And so, not to have any war, it is not necessary to preach and pray to God about peace, to persuade the English-speaking nations that they ought to be friendly toward one another, in order to be able to rule over other nations; to form double and triple alliances against one another; to marry princes to princesses of other nations,—but to destroy what produces war. But what produces war is the desire for an exclusive good for one’s own nation,—what is called patriotism. And so to abolish war, it is necessary to abolish patriotism, and to abolish patriotism, it is necessary first to become convinced that it is an evil, and that it is hard to do. Tell people that war is bad, and they will laugh at you: who does not know that? Tell them that patriotism is bad, and the majority of people will agree with you, but with a small proviso. “Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but there is also another patriotism, the one we adhere to.” But wherein[473] this good patriotism consists no one can explain. If good patriotism consists in not being acquisitive, as many say, it is none the less retentive; that is, men want to retain what was formerly acquired, since there is no country which was not based on conquest, and it is impossible to retain what is conquered by any other means than those by which it was acquired, that is, by violence and murder. But even if patriotism is not retentive, it is restorative,—the patriotism of the vanquished and oppressed nations, the Armenians, Poles, Bohemians, Irish, and so forth. This patriotism is almost the very worst, because it is the most enraged and demands the greatest degree of violence.

Patriotism cannot be good. Why do not people say that egotism can be good, though this may be asserted more easily, because egotism is a natural sentiment, with which a man is born, while patriotism is an unnatural sentiment, which is artificially inoculated in him?

It will be said: ‘Patriotism has united men in states and keeps up the unity of the states.’  But the men are already united in states,—the work is all done: why should men now maintain an exclusive loyalty for their state, when this loyalty produces calamities for all states and nations?  The same patriotism which produced the unification of men into states is now destroying those states.  If there were but one patriotism,—the patriotism of none but the English,—it might be regarded as unificatory or beneficent, but when, as now, there are American, English, German, French, Russian patriotisms, all of them opposed to one another, patriotism no longer unites, but disunites.  To say that, if patriotism was beneficent, by uniting men into states, as was the case during its highest development in Greece and Rome, patriotism even now, after eighteen hundred years of Christian life, is just as beneficent, is the same as saying that, since the ploughing was useful and beneficent for the field before the sowing, it will be as useful now, after the crop has grown up.

It would be very well to retain patriotism in memory of the use which it once had, as people preserve and retain the ancient monuments of temples, mausoleums, and so forth.  But the temples and mausoleums stand, without causing any harm to men, while patriotism produces without cessation innumerable calamities.

What now causes the Armenians and the Turks to suffer and cut each other’s throats and act like wild beasts?  Why do England and Russia, each of them concerned about her share of the inheritance from Turkey, lie in wait and do not put a stop to the Armenian atrocities?  Why do the Abyssinians and Italians fight one another?  Why did a terrible war come very near breaking out on account of Venezuela, and now on account of the Transvaal?  And the Chino-Japanese War, and the Turkish, and the German, and the French wars?  And the rage of the subdued nations, the Armenians, the Poles, the Irish?  And the preparation for war by all the nations?  All that is the fruits of patriotism.  Seas of blood have been shed for the sake of this sentiment, and more blood will be shed for its sake, if men do not free themselves from this outlived bit of antiquity.

I have several times had occasion to write about patriotism, about its absolute incompatibility, not only with the teaching of Christ in its ideal sense, but even with the lowest demands of the morality of Christian society, and every time my arguments have been met with silence or with the supercilious hint that the ideas expressed by me were Utopian expressions of mysticism, anarchism, and cosmopolitanism. My ideas have frequently been repeated in a compressed form, and, instead of retorting to them, it was added that it was nothing but cosmopolitanism, as though this word “cosmopolitanism” unanswerably overthrew all my arguments. Serious, old, clever,[475] good men, who, above all else, stand like the city on a hill, and who involuntarily guide the masses by their example, make it appear that the legality and beneficence of patriotism are so obvious and incontestable that it is not worth while to answer the frivolous and senseless attacks upon this sentiment, and the majority of men, who have since childhood been deceived and infected by patriotism, take this supercilious silence to be a most convincing proof, and continue to stick fast in their ignorance.

And so those people who from their position can free the masses from their calamities, and do not do so, commit a great sin.

The most terrible thing in the world is hypocrisy. There was good reason why Christ once got angry,—that was against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

But what was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in comparison with the hypocrisy of our time? In comparison with our men, the Pharisees were the most truthful of men, and their art of hypocrisy was as child’s play in comparison with the hypocrisy of our time; nor can it be otherwise. Our whole life, with the profession of Christianity, the teaching of humility and love, in connection with the life of an armed den of robbers, can be nothing but one solid, terrible hypocrisy. It is very convenient to profess a teaching at one end of which is Christian sanctity and infallibility, and at the other—the pagan sword and gallows, so that, when it is possible to impose or deceive by means of sanctity, sanctity is put into effect, and when the deception does not work, the sword and the gallows are put into effect. Such a teaching is very convenient, but the time comes when this spider-web of lie is dispersed, and it is no longer possible to continue to keep both, and it is necessary to ally oneself with either one or the other. It is this which is now getting to be the case in relation to the teaching about patriotism.

Whether people want it or not, the question stands[476] clearly before humanity: how can that patriotism, from which result innumerable physical and moral calamities of men, be necessary and a virtue? It is indispensable to give an answer to this question.

It is necessary either to show that patriotism is such a great good that it redeems all those terrible calamities which it produces in humanity; or to recognize that patriotism is an evil, which must not only not be inoculated in men and impressed upon them, but from which also we must try to free ourselves at all cost.

C’est à prendre ou à laisser, as the French say. If patriotism is good, then Christianity, which gives peace, is an idle dream, and the sooner this teaching is eradicated, the better. But if Christianity really gives peace, and we really want peace, patriotism is a survival from barbarous times, which must not only not be evoked and educated, as we now do, but which must be eradicated by all means, by means of preaching, persuasion, contempt, and ridicule. If Christianity is the truth, and we wish to live in peace, we must not only have no sympathy for the power of our country, but must even rejoice in its weakening, and contribute to it. A Russian must rejoice when Poland, the Baltic provinces, Finland, Armenia, are separated from Russia and made free; and an Englishman must similarly rejoice in relation to Ireland, Australia, India, and the other colonies, and coöperate in it, because, the greater the country, the more evil and cruel is its patriotism, and the greater is the amount of the suffering on which its power is based. And so, if we actually want to be what we profess, we must not, as we do now, wish for the increase of our country, but wish for its diminution and weakening, and contribute to it with all our means. And thus must we educate the younger generations: we must bring up the younger generations in such a way that, as it is now disgraceful for a young man to manifest his coarse egotism, for example, by eating everything[477] up, without leaving anything for others, to push a weaker person down from the road, in order to pass by himself, to take away by force what another needs, it should be just as disgraceful to wish for the increase of his country’s power; and, as it now is considered stupid and ridiculous for a person to praise himself, it should be considered stupid to extol one’s nation, as is now done in various lying patriotic histories, pictures, monuments, text-books, articles, sermons, and stupid national hymns. But it must be understood that so long as we are going to extol patriotism and educate the younger generations in it, we shall have armaments, which ruin the physical and spiritual life of the nations, and wars, terrible, horrible wars, like those for which we are preparing ourselves, and into the circle of which we are introducing, corrupting them with our patriotism, the new, terrible fighters of the distant East.

Emperor William, one of the most comical persons of our time, orator, poet, musician, dramatic writer, and artist, and, above all, patriot, has lately painted a picture representing all the nations of Europe with swords, standing at the seashore and, at the indication of Archangel Michael, looking at the sitting figures of Buddha and Confucius in the distance. According to William’s intention, this should mean that the nations of Europe ought to unite in order to defend themselves against the peril which is proceeding from there. He is quite right from his coarse, pagan, patriotic point of view, which is eighteen hundred years behind the times. The European nations, forgetting Christ, have in the name of their patriotism more and more irritated these peaceful nations, and have taught them patriotism and war, and have now irritated them so much that, indeed, if Japan and China will as fully forget the teachings of Buddha and of Confucius as we have forgotten the teaching of Christ, they will soon learn the art of killing people (they learn these things quickly, as[478] Japan has proved), and, being fearless, agile, strong, and populous, they will inevitably very soon make of the countries of Europe, if Europe does not invent something stronger than guns and Edison’s inventions, what the countries of Europe are making of Africa. “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master” (Luke vi. 40).

In reply to a prince’s question how to increase his army, in order to conquer a southern tribe which did not submit to him, Confucius replied: “Destroy all thy army, and use the money, which thou art wasting now on the army, on the enlightenment of thy people and on the improvement of agriculture, and the southern tribe will drive away its prince and will submit to thy rule without war.”

Thus taught Confucius, whom we are advised to fear. But we, having forgotten Christ’s teaching, having renounced it, wish to vanquish the nations by force, and thus are only preparing for ourselves new and stronger enemies than our neighbours. A friend of mine, who saw William’s picture, said: “The picture is beautiful, only it does not at all represent what the legend says. It means that Archangel Michael shows to all the governments of Europe, which are represented as robbers bedecked with arms, what it is that will cause their ruin and annihilation, namely, the meekness of Buddha and the wisdom of Confucius.” He might have added, “And the humility of Lao-tse.”

Indeed, we, thanks to our hypocrisy, have forgotten Christ to such an extent, have so squeezed out of our life everything Christian, that the teachings of Buddha and Confucius stand incomparably higher than that beastly patriotism, by which our so-called Christian nations are guided.  And so the salvation of Europe and of the Christian world at large does not consist in this, that, bedecking themselves with swords, as William has represented them, they should, like robbers, cast themselves upon their brothers beyond the sea, in order to kill them, but, on the contrary, they should renounce the survival of barbarous times,—patriotism,—and, having renounced it, should take off their arms and show the Eastern nations, not an example of savage patriotism and beastliness, but an example of brotherly love, which Christ has taught us.” Leo Tolstoy, “Reason & Religion,” “Patriotism or Peace”

marx socialism communism 

Numero Tres“Praising Karl Marx might seem as perverse as putting in a good word for the Boston Strangler.  Were not Marx’s ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women?  Was not one of his devoted disciples a paranoid Georgian peasant by the name of Stalin, and another a brutal Chinese dictator who may well have had the blood of some 30 million of his people on his hands?

The truth is that Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition.  For one thing, Marx would have scorned the idea that socialism could take root in desperately impoverished, chronically backward societies like Russia and China.  If it did, then the result would simply be what he called ‘generalized scarcity,’ by which he means that everyone would now be deprived, not just the poor.  It would mean a recycling of ‘the old filthy business’—or, in less tasteful translation, ‘the same old crap.’  Marxism is a theory of how well-heeled capitalist nations might use their immense resources to achieve justice and prosperity for their people.  It is not a program by which nations bereft of material resources, a flourishing civic culture, a democratic heritage, a well-evolved technology, enlightened liberal traditions, and a skilled, educated work force might catapult themselves into the modern age.

Marx certainly wanted to see justice and prosperity thrive in such forsaken spots.  He wrote angrily and eloquently about several of Britain’s downtrodden colonies, not least Ireland and India.  And the political movement which his work set in motion has done more to help small nations throw off their imperialist masters than any other political current.  Yet Marx was not foolish enough to imagine that socialism could be built in such countries without more-advanced nations flying to their aid.  And that meant that the common people of those advanced nations had to wrest the means of production from their rulers and place them at the service of the wretched of the earth.  If this had happened in 19th-century Ireland, there would have been no famine to send a million men and women to their graves and another two or three million to the far corners of the earth.

There is a sense in which the whole of Marx’s writing boils down to several embarrassing questions: Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality?  What are the mechanisms by which affluence for a minority seems to breed hardship and indignity for the many?  Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor?  Is it, as the good-hearted liberal reformist suggests, that we have simply not got around to mopping up these pockets of human misery, but shall do so in the fullness of time?  Or is it more plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality, as surely as Charlie Sheen generates gossip?

Marx was the first thinker to talk in those terms. This down-at-heel émigré Jew, a man who once remarked that nobody else had written so much about money and had so little, bequeathed us the language in which the system under which we live could be grasped as a whole. Its contradictions were analyzed, its inner dynamics laid bare, its historical origins examined, and its potential demise foreshadowed. This is not to suggest for a moment that Marx considered capitalism as simply a Bad Thing, like admiring Sarah Palin or blowing tobacco smoke in your children’s faces. On the contrary, he was extravagant in his praise for the class that created it, a fact that both his critics and his disciples have conveniently suppressed. No other social system in history, he wrote, had proved so revolutionary. In a mere handful of centuries, the capitalist middle classes had erased almost every trace of their feudal foes from the face of the earth. They had piled up cultural and material treasures, invented human rights, emancipated slaves, toppled autocrats, dismantled empires, fought and died for human freedom, and laid the basis for a truly global civilization. No document lavishes such florid compliments on this mighty historical achievement as The Communist Manifesto, not even The Wall Street Journal.

That, however, was only part of the story. There are those who see modern history as an enthralling tale of progress, and those who view it as one long nightmare. Marx, with his usual perversity, thought it was both. Every advance in civilization had brought with it new possibilities of barbarism. The great slogans of the middle-class revolution—”Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”—were his watchwords, too. He simply inquired why those ideas could never be put into practice without violence, poverty, and exploitation. Capitalism had developed human powers and capacities beyond all previous measure. Yet it had not used those capacities to set men and women free of fruitless toil. On the contrary, it had forced them to labor harder than ever. The richest civilizations on earth sweated every bit as hard as their Neolithic ancestors.

This, Marx considered, was not because of natural scarcity. It was because of the peculiarly contradictory way in which the capitalist system generated its fabulous wealth. Equality for some meant inequality for others, and freedom for some brought oppression and unhappiness for many. The system’s voracious pursuit of power and profit had turned foreign nations into enslaved colonies, and human beings into the playthings of economic forces beyond their control. It had blighted the planet with pollution and mass starvation, and scarred it with atrocious wars. Some critics of Marx point with proper outrage to the mass murders in Communist Russia and China. They do not usually recall with equal indignation the genocidal crimes of capitalism: the late-19th-century famines in Asia and Africa in which untold millions perished; the carnage of the First World War, in which imperialist nations massacred one another’s working men in the struggle for global resources; and the horrors of fascism, a regime to which capitalism tends to resort when its back is to the wall. Without the self-sacrifice of the Soviet Union, among other nations, the Nazi regime might still be in place.

Marxists were warning of the perils of fascism while the politicians of the so-called free world were still wondering aloud whether Hitler was quite such a nasty guy as he was painted.  Almost all followers of Marx today reject the villainies of Stalin and Mao, while many non-Marxists would still vigorously defend the destruction of Dresden or Hiroshima.  Modern capitalist nations are for the most part the fruit of a history of genocide, violence, and extermination every bit as abhorrent as the crimes of Communism.  Capitalism, too, was forged in blood and tears, and Marx was around to witness it.  It is just that the system has been in business long enough for most of us to be oblivious of that fact.

The selectiveness of political memory takes some curious forms. Take, for example, 9/11. I mean the first 9/11, not the second. I am referring to the 9/11 that took place exactly 30 years before the fall of the World Trade Center, when the United States helped to violently overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende of Chile, and installed in its place an odious dictator who went on to murder far more people than died on that dreadful day in New York and Washington. How many Americans are aware of that? How many times has it been mentioned on Fox News?

Marx was not some dreamy utopianist. On the contrary, he began his political career in fierce contention with the dreamy utopianists who surrounded him. He has about as much interest in a perfect human society as a Clint Eastwood character would, and never once speaks in such absurd terms. He did not believe that men and women could surpass the Archangel Gabriel in sanctity. Rather, he believed that the world could feasibly be made a considerably better place. In this he was a realist, not an idealist. Those truly with their heads stuck in the sand—the moral ostriches of this world—are those who deny that there can be any radical change. They behave as though Family Guy and multicolored toothpaste will still be around in the year 4000. The whole of human history disproves this viewpoint.

Radical change, to be sure, may not be for the better. Perhaps the only socialism we shall ever witness is one forced upon the handful of human beings who might crawl out the other side of some nuclear holocaust or ecological disaster. Marx even speaks dourly of the possible “mutual ruin of all parties.” A man who witnessed the horrors of industrial-capitalist England was unlikely to be starry-eyed about his fellow humans. All he meant was that there are more than enough resources on the planet to resolve most of our material problems, just as there was more than enough food in Britain in the 1840s to feed the famished Irish population several times over. It is the way we organize our production that is crucial. Notoriously, Marx did not provide us with blueprints for how we should do things differently. He has famously little to say about the future. The only image of the future is the failure of the present. He is not a prophet in the sense of peering into a crystal ball. He is a prophet in the authentic biblical sense of one who warns us that unless we change our unjust ways, the future is likely to be deeply unpleasant. Or that there will be no future at all.

Socialism, then, does not depend on some miraculous change in human nature. Some of those who defended feudalism against capitalist values in the late Middle Ages preached that capitalism would never work because it was contrary to human nature. Some capitalists now say the same about socialism. No doubt there is a tribe somewhere in the Amazon Basin that believes no social order can survive in which a man is allowed to marry his deceased brother’s wife. We all tend to absolutize our own conditions. Socialism would not banish rivalry, envy, aggression, possessiveness, domination, and competition. The world would still have its share of bullies, cheats, freeloaders, free riders, and occasional psychopaths. It is just that rivalry, aggression, and competition would no longer take the form of some bankers complaining that their bonuses had been reduced to a miserly $5-million, while millions of others in the world struggled to survive on less than $2 a day.

Marx was a profoundly moral thinker. He speaks in The Communist Manifesto of a world in which “the free self-development of each would be the condition of the free self-development of all.” This is an ideal to guide us, not a condition we could ever entirely achieve. But its language is nonetheless significant. As a good Romantic humanist, Marx believed in the uniqueness of the individual. The idea permeates his writings from end to end. He had a passion for the sensuously specific and a marked aversion to abstract ideas, however occasionally necessary he thought they might be. His so-called materialism is at root about the human body. Again and again, he speaks of the just society as one in which men and women will be able to realize their distinctive powers and capacities in their own distinctive ways. His moral goal is pleasurable self-fulfillment. In this he is at one with his great mentor Aristotle, who understood that morality is about how to flourish most richly and enjoyably, not in the first place (as the modern age disastrously imagines) about laws, duties, obligations, and responsibilities.

How does this moral goal differ from liberal individualism? The difference is that to achieve true self-fulfillment, human beings for Marx must find it in and through one another. It is not just a question of each doing his or her own thing in grand isolation from others. That would not even be possible. The other must become the ground of one’s own self-realization, at the same time as he or she provides the condition for one’s own. At the interpersonal level, this is known as love. At the political level, it is known as socialism. Socialism for Marx would be simply whatever set of institutions would allow this reciprocity to happen to the greatest possible extent. Think of the difference between a capitalist company, in which the majority work for the benefit of the few, and a socialist cooperative, in which my own participation in the project augments the welfare of all the others, and vice versa. This is not a question of some saintly self-sacrifice. The process is built into the structure of the institution.

Marx’s goal is leisure, not labor. The best reason for being a socialist, apart from annoying people you happen to dislike, is that you detest having to work. Marx thought that capitalism had developed the forces of production to the point at which, under different social relations, they could be used to emancipate the majority of men and women from the most degrading forms of labor. What did he think we would do then? Whatever we wanted. If, like the great Irish socialist Oscar Wilde, we chose simply to lie around all day in loose crimson garments, sipping absinthe and reading the odd page of Homer to each other, then so be it. The point, however, was that this kind of free activity had to be available to all. We would no longer tolerate a situation in which the minority had leisure because the majority had labor.

What interested Marx, in other words, was what one might somewhat misleadingly call the spiritual, not the material. If material conditions had to be changed, it was to set us free from the tyranny of the economic. He himself was staggeringly well read in world literature, delighted in art, culture, and civilized conversation, reveled in wit, humor, and high spirits, and was once chased by a policeman for breaking a street lamp in the course of a pub crawl. He was, of course, an atheist, but you do not have to be religious to be spiritual. He was one of the many great Jewish heretics, and his work is saturated with the great themes of Judaism—justice, emancipation, the Day of Reckoning, the reign of peace and plenty, the redemption of the poor.

What, though, of the fearful Day of Reckoning? Would not Marx’s vision for humanity require a bloody revolution? Not necessarily. He himself thought that some nations, like Britain, Holland, and the United States, might achieve socialism peacefully. If he was a revolutionary, he was also a robust champion of reform. In any case, people who claim that they are opposed to revolution usually mean that they dislike certain revolutions and not others. Are antirevolutionary Americans hostile to the American Revolution as well as the Cuban one? Are they wringing their hands over the recent insurrections in Egypt and Libya, or the ones that toppled colonial powers in Asia and Africa? We ourselves are products of revolutionary upheavals in the past. Some processes of reform have been far more bloodstained than some acts of revolution. There are velvet revolutions as well as violent ones. The Bolshevik Revolution itself took place with remarkably little loss of life. The Soviet Union to which it gave birth fell some 70 years later, with scarcely any bloodshed.

Some critics of Marx reject a state-dominated society.  But so did he.   He detested the political state quite as much as the Tea Party does, if for rather less redneck reasons.  Was he, feminists might ask, a Victorian patriarch?  To be sure.  But as some (non-Marxist) modern commentators have pointed out, it was men from the socialist and communist camps who, up to the resurgence of the women’s movement, in the 1960s, regarded the issue of women’s equality as vital to other forms of political liberation.  The word ‘proletarian’ means those who in ancient society were too poor to serve the state with anything but the fruit of their wombs.  ‘Proles’ means ‘offspring.’  Today, in the sweatshops and on the small farms of the third world, the typical proletarian is still a woman.

Much the same goes for ethnic matters.  In the 1920s and 30s, practically the only men and women to be found preaching racial equality were communists.  Most anticolonial movements were inspired by Marxism.  The antisocialist thinker Ludwig von Mises described socialism as ‘the most powerful reform movement that history has ever known, the first ideological trend not limited to a section of mankind but supported by people of all races, nations, religions, and civilizations.’  Marx, who knew his history rather better, might have reminded von Mises of Christianity, but the point remains forceful.  As for the environment, Marx astonishingly prefigured our own Green politics.  Nature, and the need to regard it as an ally rather than an antagonist, was one of his constant preoccupations.

Why might Marx be back on the agenda?  The answer, ironically, is because of capitalism.  Whenever you hear capitalists talking about capitalism, you know the system is in trouble.  Usually they prefer a more anodyne term, like ‘free enterprise.’  The recent financial crashes have forced us once again to think of the setup under which we live as a whole, and it was Marx who first made it possible to do so.  It was The Communist Manifesto which predicted that capitalism would become global, and that its inequalities would severely sharpen.  Has his work any defects?  Hundreds of them.  But he is too creative and original a thinker to be surrendered to the vulgar stereotypes of his enemies.” Terry Eagleton, “In Praise of Marx;” 2011