How are Marxism and Christianity similar?

■ Wolfgang Geiger spoke to the French philosopher Roger Garaudy, who was a Christian, Marxist and Muslim

At the international congress organized by the Lower Saxony Foundation from May 21 to 27 in Hanover Mind and nature the French philosopher and former chief intellectual of the PCF Roger Garaudy gave a lecture entitled Meaning of Life and Dialogue of Culture as part of a symposium on the topic Religion and World View - an opportunity to ask him a few weeks before his 75th birthday on July 13 in the retrospective about his relationship to religion. In this country Garaudy became known in the 1960s as a pioneer in opening up the PCF, especially through the public disputes with Sartre and existentialism on the one hand and with leading representatives of the Christian churches in the context of a Christian-Marxist dialogue on the other. His criticism of the Soviet invasion of Prague, the starting point for a fundamental criticism of the “Soviet model” and his political solidarity with the 1968 movement in France led to his party being expelled in 1970. As one of the first left theorists, Garaudy took up the ecological problem at the beginning of the 1970s and was then primarily committed to a worldwide cultural dialogue. In 1983 he attracted international attention with his conversion to the Islamic faith. He recently published an autobiographical review of the history of philosophy and religion in German: 20th century biography.

taz: Monsieur Garaudy, I would like to ask you a few questions about the importance that faith has played on your personal, philosophical and political path.

Roger Garaudy: It is indeed one of the central problems in my life. What shaped me a lot is that in 1933 I was twenty years old. 1933 really was a moment of the apocalypse, a break in history. Not just the great American crisis that had spread across Europe since 1929. It was the catastrophe, the dairy cows were slaughtered in Holland, the wheat was burned, the books were burned in Nuremberg, Hitler had come to power, Mussolini at the height, it was really a catastrophe all along the line.

Well, I came from a family that was atheist about religion and conservative about politics. I couldn't exactly find answers to our problems there. At that point the fundamental problem seemed to me to be to find a spiritual hold in the face of these clashing wills for power, for growth, for expansion - which were the spiritual roots of this crisis, conditioned by positivism and individualism, as I also pointed out yesterday have. In this situation, Kierkegaard became a great experience for me. The sacrifice of Abraham in Fear and trembling For me it was the example of how human beings are dependent on absolute values. Christian and communist

That is how I became a Christian. At the same time, I was frustrated because I couldn't find a way in Christianity how this high ideal that I had from Kierkegaard could be realized in society, in social structures. What I liked about Kierkegaard was the unconditionality of God over all limited ideologies and morals, the unconditional sacrifice. But in spite of that, I have never been able to find a political embodiment of this ideal in Christianity, in all of its history. So I looked elsewhere, and I found it in Marxism. I was not looking for metaphysics in Marx; on the contrary, he has given us a wonderful method of analyzing the contradictions in this society and consequently, starting from this analysis, the project that will make it possible to overcome them. All my life, I have to say, the question has been: Can one - yes or no - bring Kierkegaard and Marx together, Abraham and Prometheus? That is the central problem ...

In the memories I am now writing, I show that all the episodes of my life have been stages on the way to finding an answer to this problem on which I believe our survival depends today. So I tried to hold both ends of that thread in my hands, and from that point of view, although I belonged to different communities, I always had the same goal in mind.

Did you find it difficult to join the PCF while maintaining your Christian creed?

Yes, that got me into trouble ... but it wasn't the reason for my dismissal. I have to say that Maurice Thorez, whose era as party leader represented the great time of the PCF, was a man of great open-mindedness towards such things, he understood very well what was important to me, and he has this possibility of reconciling Kierkegaard and Marx never denied.

It was not this problem that was the reason for my exclusion, but my attitude towards the revolting students and the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Well, why Islam now ... I skip to the other end, but it's still the same problem. If the Qur'an consisted only of the suras revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, it would be a book very similar to the Gospel, a sermon on the purity of life, morality, following the right path, in short, he has up to then a dimension of inwardness, and then, suddenly, while a price is being put on Muhammad's head in Mecca, he comes to Medina and becomes, so to speak, a “head of state”. Now imagine if Jesus had become head of state, how his teaching would have been objectified in the social structures, we get this impression from Mohammed, for example. Curse and dialogue

In Medina he is forced to find solutions to social, political and other problems. And by and large, that's what I said last night ..., this idea, the three very simple subjects that God alone commands, God alone owns, God only knows - that is, in my opinion, the great principle of Incarnation of this teaching, the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Muhammad of Mecca: Man, the individual, is relative ..., his possessions, his knowledge are relative. So that's what I looked for separately in Christianity, in Marxism and in the Koran - in the Koran! I am not saying: in the historical tradition that appeals to him ...

Nietzsche once said: What is Christianity? - Just about everything that Jesus would have condemned. And I think that quite often you can also say: What is the Islamic tradition? Just about everything that the Koran condemns ... But in its principles I found the principles of the solution that I was looking for. Here is an overview of my entire curriculum vitae, the problem as I posed it to myself in 1933: Christianity - Marxism, Kierkegaard - Marx, Abraham - Prometheus, and in Islam ... - no, not in Islam, you always think about it right away an Islamic tradition ... -, in the teaching of the Koran, which one must not read with the eyes of the dead ... One must read it, I think, as the revelation of a god of the Semites, that is, the one in the History intervenes, and since he is transcendent, he speaks only through parables, just as man can speak only in metaphors and analogies.

So that's where I found the synthesis, if you will. That sounds quite Hegelian, thesis, antithesis, synthesis, but on the whole it is like that. There you now have the two ends of my life and also the continuity in them. Since you have now been asked to ask about it on the eve of my 75th birthday ... You know, my greatest joy - I wrote that somewhere - is that at 75 I have the feeling that my dreams from back then, when I was twenty to have been faithful.

After taking stock in 1968 of what has become of Marxism in Eastern Europe and what path the Communist Party went in France during this double spring in Prague and Paris, as well as the conclusions from it and its exclusion from the party - you then first returned to the Christians ...

... I did not return to them because I had never left them. For twelve years I organized the dialogues between Christians and Marxists, which was often difficult because the Christians saw me as dangerous, and in the eyes of the Marxists I went too far, but I always tried both ends to hold the thread in your hands. You can find this question in From curse to dialogue (1965), which was subtitled: “A Marxist Addresses the Council,” and even in the most dogmatic books such as L'Eglise, le communisme et les chretiens (1948), I declared that in our struggle Christians must find a beginning of their kingdom of heaven. When Ilyichov wrote his famous text that one cannot build socialism as long as religion exists, I contradicted it. It was the first time that a communist, a communist from the West, attacked a leading Soviet figure ... I said that this attitude was completely contrary to Marxism. 1968

So, by that I mean, I have not returned to the Christians. From curse to dialogue was translated into fourteen languages, Karl Rahner wrote the foreword to the German edition, an expert of the council, a Jesuit, and so it continues to this day when I wrote my book 20th century biography Having written, which among other things shows my path to Islam, the greatest Catholic theologian in France, Father Chenu, was ready to write a foreword to it. I mean, there is not a moment in my life where I have come back to this or that. I always had Abraham and Prometheus, Kierkegaard and Marx in front of my eyes.

What I did back then, after my expulsion from the party in 1970, was not a step back, but after accusing Marchais and the party leadership of having no project for the new challenges that were posed in '68, I made a first attempt myself, as a book under the title Reconquete de l'espoir (1971), and then I have it much more comprehensively in The alternative (1972) developed. In 1968 something radically new had arisen, that is, while for Marx the criticism of the contradictions of the system was at the center and he showed how something different could arise from it, the youth, and not just the student youth, became aware of it in 1968 that the capitalist system is far more threatening when it succeeds than when it fails. That seems to me to be the most important thing about '68, there was no crisis when the biggest movement France had ever known arose: ten million workers on strike, all universities occupied ... Capitalism was in good shape then, there was no unemployment worth mentioning, economic growth was four percent, no inflation ... everything was fine.

Well why does something like this break out? Because the system seemed dangerous because of its success, not because of its impending collapse. That is the big problem, and consequently being revolutionary no longer meant repeating over and over that capitalism was concealing its contradictions, which remained true, but above all finding a project ... It was a matter of showing what could be done with this system could oppose, and I then pursued this idea ... in The alternative and in Call to the living (1979)...

During the seventies you wrote on questions of Christianity, at the same time you developed your concept of “cultural dialogue”, which to some extent already existed in the sixties.

In the sixties it was mainly about the dialogue between Christians and Marxists. One fine day, however, in 1974, at the World Council of Churches, where representatives of the Catholic Church (but only in an advisory capacity), the Protestant and Orthodox Churches met, and three Communists were also represented, a Spaniard, an Italian and myself. I have made a new proposal.

Muslim Garaudy

Assuming that the dialogue between Christians and Marxists has reached a certain end point, those who want to understand have understood, and those who do not want to can refuse it, it is now important to be clear about it, that the dialogue was provincial as long as it took place among participants who had the same cultural references as those of the West. That is why I proposed a broader standard, moving towards a dialogue between different cultures or civilizations, which should continue the old dialogue but extend beyond the European peninsula. In all of this you can see again that there was no break for me. There were moments when accents were set, but always starting from the same problem: Kierkegaard and Marx, Abraham and Prometheus.

And the point of your decision to convert to Islam?

Also there ..., I don't like the word "convert", because it is a completion of my path ..., I mean, the problem that the Prophet faced when he became "Head of State" in Medina, To found a society on the basis of the revelation that had come to him, the problem of this social incarnation of the Koranic teaching, as I said, is also the problem of my life ... Incidentally, I said at the time: I will come with her Bible under one arm and that capital of Marx among the other!

But at some point it became a kind of revelation or confession for you, because you were disappointed in Christianity ...

No, I was never disappointed with Christianity ...

... from the church, from the institutions ...

... I note that from the Council of Nicaea onwards a kind of reversal of Christianity took place, it became a doctrine of power, as symbolized in the mosaic of Ravenna, where Christ appears in the uniform of a Byzantine general; we are already very far from the crucified one in Palestine, so it's not Christianity, but the churches ..., it's like the parties ... and the Koran ...? Unfortunately, I cannot recognize an Islamic state anywhere, any more than a Christian one, but there is the teaching of the Koran that seems essential to me, the experience of Medina, that is, the experience of a prophet who was at the head of a state, a unique opportunity. The prophets of Israel, for example, were against the power, they were in opposition to it, Jesus was killed by the mighty; for the first time there is a prophet at the head of a state, which is a fascinating experience.

Since you rightly differentiate the Christian faith and the origins of Christianity from the church, the institutions, dogmatics etc. and at the same time criticize a similar gap between teaching and tradition in the Islamic world, what does your commitment to Islam mean?

It's a sick world like the Christian world, like the whole world, but it's not the same sickness. There is nothing in the Gospels that can constitute a political social doctrine. Perhaps there was a moment when one could at least imagine a turning point in Jesus when he said: "Give the emperor what is the emperor's and God what God is." This was by no means the reconciliation between politics and religion which it was made later, religion for the inside, politics for outside. For a Roman prefect there was nothing rebellious but this saying, because let us not forget that at that time the emperor was God. And then someone like Jesus comes along and sets out to rob the emperor of the decisive elements of his power, his rule over souls - this is a truly revolutionary claim and by no means a reconciliation. True and False Prophets

But still there is nothing to suggest what an economic, political and social structure should be like. Meanwhile, through the power of the factual, which Mohammed was confronted with in Medina, not in Mecca, there are references in the Koran which, of course, have to be read with a historical perspective. When a policy and a social doctrine are established in Christianity, it consequently emerges outside of the doctrine of the gospel. Constantinism, established by Constantine to consolidate his kingdom, is the opposite of the teaching of Christ. In the Koran there are references: "God alone commands, God alone owns, God alone knows" - no emperor. But in history there were also perversions of his teaching.

But in the Koran we already find this political and social dimension, Islam as "religion and community". I believe this is the key idea. Christianity, as stated in the Gospels, has been able to produce monk-like communities, but there is nothing that has allowed us to organize global society.In the Qur'an we have principles of it presented in historical forms that are naturally inherited, but the historical answers to historically raised problems are based on absolute principles and are addressed to everyone, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

It is important to find these principles and to detach them from their historical example - the Koran is based on a principle that is exactly the opposite of Roman law: in Roman law there is the principle from which the conclusions are drawn; In the Qur'an there is, on the contrary, an example from which one has to go back to the underlying principle and then apply this principle to new historical conditions. That is why there is an instrument in it that seems very valuable to me.

As far as revelation and the relativity of human experience are concerned, you keep quoting Karl Barth's famous sentence: “Everything I say about God, I say that as a person about him.” How do you make this statement, that is, relativity human knowledge, in accordance with revelation, in other words - this is of course a fundamental question of every revealed religion: How can one be certain that God speaks through a certain person and not through another?

There is no external criterion to determine that, no touchstone, the way one can determine whether a piece is made of gold or not. This one is a prophet, this one is not a prophet. The question of existence

Well, first of all there are stages of prophecy. But I do not believe that the series of prophets can be limited to those we know. Saint Francis of Assisi, for example, is not said to be a prophet and yet he had a prophetic view of the world. For the first time the Church, which until then was a Church of the feudal world, is moving into another world, that of the people, and opens up a new reading of the Gospel that opposes the feudal reading in the style of Saint Bernard, who was his contemporary was. Should we call him a prophet or not? This is not a question of an "appellation controlee" as with wine. I think the prophetic is always a risk; therefore there can be no external criteria as to how one can bring this idea that everything I say about God, as a human being, can be brought into agreement with prophetic revelation. For the revelation of the prophet gives us an orientation, but I am never certain that I have fully interpreted it.

God speaks in the prophets, through them, but it is the people who read them, and so for me the bottom line in accepting the idea of ​​revelation is a postulate. But it is not just a postulate, it is belief, it is not a religion - religion, my friend Paul Ricoeur always says, is an alienation of belief - but belief is the postulate by which we establish that there is one There is totality, a divine will that we do not know. If I do not make this postulate, I will become an idolater, I will accept whatever nation or sex or money you want, or even this or that religious doctrine, as gods. It is a kind of relativization when I say: "God only knows"; that means that everything I say is always only temporary, relative. But if I postulate that God knows, that drives me on in my search instead of stopping at this or that stage and staying there.

As a high school student you found a self-description in the form of a metaphor: “I am a ball that runs after its center.” More than fifteen years later (1948) you took up this sentence in your novel “Le huitieme jour de la creation”. If I have understood correctly, then it is meant as an accusation against the protagonist Serge that he could not make up his mind ... Decades later, in “Human Word”, you come back to it and add: “But this career is just the center. ”Do you have anything else to say today?

No, you see it from its critical point of view when it relates to Serge. But it is my constant criticism, I have to look for this center, I told you about it. Basically it is the search for that center point. The problem was at the very beginning, but I haven't fully solved it yet. If I had solved it, I would be a prophet, someone who brings a revelation, but I don't have it. From a positive point of view, this path itself is the center.

It's not even particularly original. As you know, Pascal has already said: “You have to look for a fight, not victory ...” I wouldn't put it like Pascal, because I do believe that you have to look for “victory”. The struggle is not an end in itself, I was never a revolutionary or even an activist for pure pleasure ... The goal, the "victory" is what counts - and that is a long way off. But what remains is a beautiful picture, the ball that runs after its center, that is: constant effort. It expresses what I said earlier in a different way: the totality is always a postulate, I postulate that God knows everything, but I can never come close to this totality.

But if I do not postulate this totality, I stop on my way. I stop looking for my center, I have established myself within myself, I have my own center, and I am not just the center of myself but of everything - that is the definition of individualism. If I speak so much about the community, then this should express exactly the opposite of it, that is, my center is not in myself, but in the other, in God, and it follows from this that I stand for the lot of all I am responsible to others too. And when I say “the others”, I don't just mean other people, but everything, on a cosmic scale, after all, we are not atoms that are separated from one another by a void.

In my memories I try again to get to the bottom of the dispute between Sartre and myself, and the most important thing seems to me to be that Sartre settles down in the “cogito”, which makes him a solipsist. He himself said that he had not got out of solipsism, and this because he started from the assumption that it was a primal truth, as with Descartes. It is always about the same thing: man begins with his lonely consciousness. But that's not true! It begins with an act, it does not begin with a thought or a perception, it is in a flow of forces, that is the primal experience. The experience of Roquentin (in Sartres Disgust), to ask the question of existence when one is abandoned by the world, that is a wrong starting point. The being and the nothing was then nothing more than this actual banal experience - "Everything bores me ... what is life supposed to be?" in a philosophical form. That's not how you get people any further.

Available books by Roger Garaudy:

20th century biography. A philosophical testament, 2 volumes, Edition Nicole, 20 marks each. The case of Israel, Dialog Press. God is dead. The problem, the method and the system of Hegel, Materialis Verlag, 49,80Mark. The last resort. Feminization of society, Walter Verlag, 22.80 marks. The weaker sex is our strength. Feminization of Society, dtv 7.80Mark.