Proposed article for the Tripartite Newsletter
January 25, 1964
Last summer there were several topics among those we discussed which repeatedly left those of us from the West unsatisfied. We never seemed to resolve certain problems about the ethics and morals of a Marxist society.. How are the Marxist society's aims ultimately any different from those of a Western "liberal democracy"? How does a Marxist society satisfy the personal needs of its citizens?
In the absence of an adequate answer from our Soviet friends at Nal’chik, I would like to propose some myself and hope there will be reactions to it correcting me if you think I'm wrong. Today I attended a conference here at the University [of Chicago] vaguely entitled "Marxism and Christianity‑‑Dialogues Across the Icon Curtain." The speakers were Milan Obočensky, a professor of Theology in Prague and Dietrich Richtl, formerly Swiss, now an American theologian, Most of what they had to say centered on the problem of being a Christian in a Marxist society, and was rather irrelevant for our purposes. However, some of the sources they quoted from are quite relevant, I think, particularly an address by Milan Machoveč, Lecturer in Philosophy, Charles University, Prague. Machoveč is a Marxist and was speaking at a conference of the World Student Christian Federation two summers ago in Graz, Austria.
"For a Marxist the only question is man and human society; only man as such, or 'the idea man'~ but the real destiny of living human beings and the struggle to make their living conditions more human, ...Evan if Marxism is perhaps not the whole truth, today it is an historical fact and the primary reality in the lives of several hundred million people . ... Do you really believe that these people can live without asking questions about the meaning of life, about morality, about the voice of conscience, about the role of the individual and his relation to society and the time in which trio, live? ... We know that it appears to some that Marxists neglect man as a moral and spiritual being, that we are concerned only with the material life and its organization, with economics, production, and politics, and nothing else.
Machoveč goes on to say that many people become caught up in the means to the attainment of the communist way of life, and lose sight of the ends. By this he means the era of the Stalinist cult of personality, with its tragic consequences:
"There were many mistakes, much evil, and also great humiliation, but also severe self‑criticism and attempts to bring about change and to rediscover the true meaning of the communist movement. The international communist movement in now entering... an era of great renaissance, with a return to its original aims and the fundamental meaning of communism.”
In other words, communism or Marxism is now on the proper path toward the accomplishment of the greatest task in human history, the building of a communist society.
Unfortunately,, I tam afraid that., as sorry as Marxists may be for the crimes of the Stalin era, and as dedicated as they may be (perhaps I should say, you may be) to the accomplishment of those high ideals, there still lies unanswered in my mind the question: "How did the Stalin era come about, and what guarantee is there that it will never happen again?
One of the speakers today pointed out that Marxism, in attempting to be scientific, actually went beyond the bounds of science per se, and became metaphysical in its atheism, an atheism of the type of Ivan Karamazov, Nietzsche and Faust. Machoveč says, incidentally that "there are many forms of atheism which we reject indignantly, especially those which are combined with cynicism, individualism and gross materialism."
Obočensky feels what Marxism needs, here, is a chance for a constant dialogue with some other system, because, as he says, if Marxism can not provide the answers to good and evil, then the young people will look for them elsewhere. And the place they are looking, at least in Czechoslovakia, seems to be in our old friend Franz Kafka. And certain Marxists in that country are also discovering that Kafka was not only the prophet of the alienation of the individual in the decadent West, but that he is also a prophet of socialism. Kafka must be taken seriously if the Marxist is to understand where he came from, what the young Marx was saying what people, are now feeling through the impact of technology, automation, cybernetics, etc.
The problem of evil is a mysterious one. It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand it as a remnant of bourgeois society. Science is not providing the answer.
The answer of today's speaker was that Christians in socialist countries can help Marxism find the answers. I feel inadequate to judge one way or the other, since I don’t know the conditions of the countries that he was referring to. 1 doubt if it would be relevant in the Soviet Union. But the principle underlying his answer was that we must have confidence and trust in each other, even if our systems are different. Through this solidarity we can learn from each other and help each other; I think this was the spirit of Nal'chik and am confident it will be the spirit of the third Tripartite camp in California [?] this summer.