Saturday, March 08, 2008

'Marxism' today

My, how it has changed since my day. I'm not usually one for drawing people's attention to the musings of the more spaced-out individuals on the ultra-left but this car crash I found via Shiraz Socialist really is one of the most bizarre arguments I've read for some time. Take this, for example:
"The very relevant point made by Dr Williams is that religious faith and its entailed commitments are less negotiable than secular ones, as believers hold that they have a sacred covenant with divine law. However, progressive theologians and scholars of all faiths seek to distinguish between those aspects of their religious belief that are fundamental – or in terms of their own belief systems divinely ordained – and those aspects which are a reflection not of divine will, but of social and cultural accident."
So, I can claim my 'commitments' are less negotiable than yours provided I insist they are sanctioned by a deity? The comrade not only finds this acceptable - he actually wants the polity to accommodate these more than it does already. He might even find something 'progressive' in the fact that what you insist are 'divine commitments' have been distinguished from what is mere 'culture' by some theologian. One assumes that the way these 'progressive scholars' make this distinction is with reference to the relevant holy texts. Was this 'Marxist' aware he was articulating a defence of what is 'fundamentalism' by most people's definition? It gets worse:
"It is taken as self-evidently correct amongst most progressives that teaching creationism or intelligent design in schools is reactionary, but is this really the case? Now I am a big defender of science, and of scientific method. But the current situation in schools seems to be that GCSE students are introduced to Lamarkism, Darwinism and in some schools Creationism, and then told that Darwinism is correct, and that is the answer they have to give to get credit. Now of course Darwinian theories of evolution are correct, but there are two important subsidiary issues: i) is it a necessary role of the state to enforce upon all citizens that they accept evolution? ii) does simply telling students that Darwinism is correct arm them with the theoretical tools to distinguish why faith based arguments are excluded from science?"
I'm not sure the cause of scientific education could cope with many 'big defenders' such as this. By this logic, teaching alchemy would be acceptable - nay, progressive - provided at some point it was made clear that it is chemistry is correct. But it's the line about the state forcing people to accept evolution that displays a special kind of insanity. Schools teach science - and this village idiot finds something authoritarian in this? People aren't forced to accept anything. That people are free to reject all the available evidence and insist that the world was created in seven days is demonstrated by the fact that 'creationism' is being discussed at all!

But it was his discourse on 'national culture' that really made my jaw drop:
"To take an extreme example, German and British troops who faced each other in the trenches of the first world war had a near identical experience, and an identical political interest in ending the war. Politically therefore there was grounds for solidarity and internationalism. But culturally, there was no shared community through which they experienced this similar fate - and indeed the shared communal experience was with their own national officer class. Few British soldiers will have read Erich Maria Remarque, few Germans will have read Siegfried Sassoon or Rupert Brookes."
Because we all know that it isn't the shared experience of living with families, working in factories in towns and cities or being members of trades unions that maketh a community. Oh no - as every good Marxist knows, it's reading the same literature that does it.

It's perhaps undignified to rattle the cage of Bedlam in this way but I record this because I was simply so astonished - naivety on my part, I dare say. It's not that I'm assuming the author of this piece is representative of the left. I'm not a Marxist myself and I certainly don't see the left as the repository of all virtue - especially these days. It's just that when someone described themselves as 'Marxist', you used to have a rough idea of where they stood. I may be wrong but twenty years ago it would have been inconceivable for someone to produce such an apologia for the religious right such as this and still claim they were a Marxist. This in itself strikes me as being a significant change that has taken place in my life-time.

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