Class Struggle and Christian Love by Herbert Mc Cabe (1980)
Reprinted from chapter 51 of Rex Ambler and David Haslam, eds.,”Agenda for Prophets: Towards a Political Theology for Britain” , London: Bowerdean Press (1980)
Two paragraph intro. by editors:-
“While institutionally the Christian church has denounced Marxism as an atheistic and dehumanizing creed, theologians and other church-people have from time to time dialogued with members of Marxist parties and movements to explore common themes and concerns. Aspects of Marxist thought may be discerned in the emergence and development of political and liberation theologies, and in regions of the Third World Christians and Marxists have found a common commitment to over-coming oppression drawing them onto the same side in revolutionary struggles.
The essay from which this extract is taken was one of many writings produced in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s by Christians arguing that the scriptural imperative to do justice, practise love of neighbor, and represent the values of the kingdom of God compels Christians to join with Marxists in their opposition to capitalism and commitment to its overthrow. Whereas capitalism is predicated on human antagonism, McCabe argues, Christianity announces the possibility that people might live together in peace. McCabe was a leading Dominican with British and Irish nationality, who wrote and lectured widely on theology, philosophy, and politics. In 1967 he was brieﬂy suspended from the priesthood by Rome.”
The Class Struggle And Christian Love (1980) by Herbert McCabe
The struggle of the working class is not…simply a struggle within capitalism,as though it were a matter of reversing positions and ‘putting the workers on top’(as in the game of parliamentary elections);it is a struggle within capitalism which,insofar as it is successful,leads beyond capitalism.As Marx puts it:
An oppressed class is a vital ingredient of every society based on class antagonism.The emancipation of the oppressed class therefore necessarily involves the creation of a new society…Does this mean the downfall of the old society will be followed by a new class domination expressing itself in a new political power? No,the condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of all classes.
…there are certain things we can say:1.The class struggle is not a product of the envy of the poor for the rich;itis not about establishing some ideal equality between people’s incomes
.2.The class struggle is not something we are in a position to start;it is a condition of the process called capitalism within which we ﬁnd ourselves.If anybody could be said to have ‘started’the class struggle it was,I suppose,those enterprising medieval men who found ways to get round or break out of the stiﬂing customs and traditions of feudalism and thus found ways to make products avail-able more cheaply and more proﬁtably.
3.The class struggle is not something we are in a position to refrain from. It is just there;we are either on one side or the other.What looks like neutrality is simply a collusion with the class in power.Now of course everything would be so much simpler if the class struggle were altogether perspicuous,but it is not;it comes in a variety of disguises.In the ﬁrst place the simple division into two classes won’t do.The basic antagonism that lies at the root of society produces a whole series of mutually hostile groupings engaged in shifting alliances and confrontations.It is almost never a simple matter to decide in the case of any particular dispute which side is to be supported in the furtherance of the emancipation of the working class and the consequent abolition of all class antagonisms.Very familiar instances of these difﬁculties occur with national liberation movements which are always a confusion of different elements struggling for different and sometimes incompatible aims.Nothing in Karl Marx that I know of and certainly nothing in the New Testament provides you with a simple key to what to do in such cases.Marx said:
‘All the struggles within the State,the struggle between democracy,aristocracy and monarchy,the struggle for the franchise,etc,are merely the illusory forms in which the real struggles of the different classes with each other are fought out.’No doubt,but getting through the illusions to the reality is a difﬁcult and delicate business.What is wrong with capitalism,then,is not that it involves some people being richer than I am.I cannot see the slightest objection to other people being richer than I am;I have no urge to be as rich as everybody else,and no Christian (and indeed no grown-up person) could possibly devote his life to trying to be as rich or richer than others.There are indeed people,very large numbers of people,who are obscenely poor,starving,diseased,illiterate,and it is quite obviously unjust and unreasonable that they should be left in this state while other people or other nations live in luxury;but this has nothing specially to do with capitalism,even though we will never now be able to alter that situation until capitalism has been abolished. You ﬁnd exactly the same conditions in,say,slave societies and,more-over,capitalism,during its prosperous boom phases,is quite capable of relieving distress at least in fully industrialised societies – this is what the ‘Welfare State’isall about.What is wrong with capitalism is simply that it is based on human antagonism,and it is precisely here that it comes in conﬂict with Christianity. Capitalism is a state of war,but not just a state of war between equivalent forces;it involves a war between those who believe in and prosecute war as a way of life,as an economy,and those who do not….Christianity is deeply subversive of capitalism precisely because it announces the improbable possibility that men might live together without war;neither by domination nor by antagonism but by unity in love.It announces this,of course,primarily as a future and nearly miraculous possibility and certainly not as an established fact;Christians are not under the illusion that mankind is sinless or that sin is easily overcome,but they believe that it will be overcome.It was for this reason that Jesus was executed – as a political threat.Not because he was a political activist;he was not.Although amongst his disciples he attracted some of the Jewish nationalist Zealots,the Provos of the time,they did not attract him.Certainly Jesus was not any kind of socialist – how could anyone be a socialist before capitalism had come into existence? But he was nonetheless executed as a political threat because the gospel he preached – that the Father loves us and therefore,in spite of all the evidence to the contrary,we are able to love one another and stake the meaning of our lives on this – cut at the root of the antagonistic society in which he still lives.Christianity is not an ideal theory,it is a praxis,a particular kind of practical challenge to the world.Christians,therefore,do not,or should not,stand around saying ‘What a pity there is capitalism and the class war’.They say,or should say,‘How are we going to change this?’It might have been nice if we had never had capitalism;who can tell what might have happened? Only the most naive mechanist supposes that history has inevitable patterns so that you could predict every stage of it.It is at least theoretically possible that there might never have been capitalism and that might have been nice,though it is hard to see how we could have