Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Does a Resurgent Marxism Look Like?

9/15/2011--Readers of this blog have seen the interview in Religion Dispatches magazine concerning my new book, Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism. (interview noted below, 9/8/2011).

In that interview, I wrote that "I hope to be able one day to write a serious book challenging the assumptions of capitalism on behalf of a resurgent Marxism." So, I have been pondering what a resurgent Marxism might be like.

I am not a scientific materialist. Marx was. Yet there is a kind of religious sensibility about Marx, as evidenced in his call "From each according to his gifts, to each according to his needs." (At least this is the popular version).

This kind of generosity is very reminiscent of the New Testament. It calls to mind the parable of the workers in the Vineyard from the Gospel of Matthew, 20: 1-16:

"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."

From Wikipedia: "The word translated "penny" in the King James Version of this parable is the denarius, a silver coin which was the usual day's wage for a laborer; the story depends on the audience agreeing that this is a fair day's wage. The hours here are measured starting at about 6:00 AM, so that the eleventh hour is between about 4:00 and 5:00 PM. The workers are poor men working as temporary farmhands during the harvest season, and the employer realises that they would all need a full day's pay to feed their families. The payment at evening follows Old Testament guidelines."

This parable is often interpreted to apply to "religious" matters, such as death-bed conversions. But we need to think of it more literally. Capitalism encourages us to think of ourselves as earning our income by our merits and as constantly competing with everyone else.

But Jesus is teaching us to think of ourselves as receiving enough and not needing to lessen what is given to others to have "justice". The Parable is also reminiscent of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32.

The beginning point of a new Marxism might well be that economics must account for scarcity, but must begin in gratitude.

No comments:

Post a Comment