Marxism and Christianity: taking Roger Garaudy's project seriously
Roche, Julian Spencer
Roger Garaudy occupied a position at the centre of the debate with Louis Althusser, Lucien Sève and others over Marxist humanism within the French Communist Party. That, and his active participation in the Marxist–Christian dialogue, ensured that what he said, wrote and did was widely reported at the time. Even those who have continued to analyse the complex relationship between Marxism and Christianity rarely ignore his role. All this changed completely when he was expelled from the Party in 1970. His subsequent adoption of a project which was both Marxist and Christian lasted just a decade, compared to an intellectual and political life that stretched from before World War II until well into the 21st Century. This period of his intellectual life and the project that he undertook has attracted no specific study. There are several reasons for this neglect. Firstly, Marxist commentators were either still Communist Party members and sought only to make political capital out of his expulsion, or they were sympathetic to Garaudy, eager to demonstrate continuity in his work, and therefore not seeking to emphasise his work after he left the Party. Secondly, Christians were suspicious of a former Party member, especially given that his Christianity did not seem to fit conventional understanding. Thirdly, Garaudy’s populist style and ability to reach a mass audience distanced him from the academic world. Many of the central ideas of the project are scattered across different publications, and nowhere written up for academic publication. Then, after his conversion to Islam in 1982, his work was almost completely overshadowed by perceptions of his association with the Islamic world, especially after his conviction for Holocaust denial in 1998. The result is that Garaudy’s project has been largely lost to history, rejected by Marxists and Christians alike. This thesis by contrast focuses directly on the project itself, broadly covering his independent years between expulsion from the Party and his conversion. The result of this focus has been to uncover a very different and much more radical relationship between Marxism and Christianity within the project than Garaudy had ever evinced during his previous period as a Marxist humanist. Some elements of Garaudy’s previous Marxist humanism are retained, just as some are carried forward, if erratically, into his subsequent adherence to Islam. More importantly, however, for the Garaudy of the project, not only does Marxism need to be revised in political terms, but it also stands in need of two key concepts directly derived from Christianity: subjectivity and transcendence. There is therefore a need for detailed examination of the meaning, significance and plausibility of both concepts within Garaudy’s project. What emerges from Garaudy’s project is a Marxism that appears very contemporary in its emphasis on the individual, its ecological politics, and in its insistence on the essential role of religion in human emancipation. The world has however moved on significantly since then. The next stage in the analysis of the project is therefore whether it still has relevance in the 21st Century, and to what extent. Others have developed a very different relationship between Marxism and Christianity, notably and in very different ways, Slavoj Žižek and Terry Eagleton. Their work is placed in the context of whether they have something to offer to improve Garaudy’s project. The assessment, however, is that neither of them has produced a better blueprint for the relationship between Marxism and Christianity than Garaudy had already offered. This is not to suggest that Garaudy’s project represents the last word. Other areas of thought and action that Garaudy left unexplored within the project, ethics in particular, are also considered as candidates for inclusion in a revised project. There is no doubt that Garaudy’s project was fragile — his subsequent trajectory proved it. Overall, however, the conclusion is very positive. In abandoning it, Garaudy threw away the key to how Christianity can provide a plausible basis on which to revise Marxism. Whilst recognising the import of his conversion, and condemning what followed, there is therefore good reason to take Garaudy’s project seriously in the contemporary world, and to revise it, as the basis on which an enduring and potentially successful relationship between Marxists and Christians can yet be built.