Dorothy Day, in her earlier years an anarchist, in her memoir ‘A Long Loneliness’, often references the thought and political ideologies of 18th Century socialist revolutionary, Karl Marx. She reflects with a surprising tenderness on ‘the Marxist slogan, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.’1 She felt connected to this call for action, writing ‘it made me feel one with the masses, apart from the bourgeoisie, the smug, and the satisfied.’2 Dorothy Day opposed classism and inequality, an attitude which resonated with Marxist political and social philosophies.
She was drawn to those who stood for the oppressed and broken worker, not only to those who spoke of social justice but to those who were active toward change and ‘making a difference’. Peter Maurin was one such friend and with affection recalled a few of his slogans, one being “Fire the bosses” which, later in her memoir she assured ‘meant “call no man master, for all ye are brothers.” It meant “Bear one another’s burdens.”’3Dorothy and Peter, believed in the way of voluntary poverty, a solidarity which called them close to the cry of the oppressed, a ‘Gospel simplicity’ which meant to Peter ‘that you begged when you were in need and by this gave the opportunity to the rich to become poor for Christ’s sake.’4
Karl Marx is an enigma. For most of my life, I have only known him by name. Almost every time that I have heard the name of Karl Marx mentioned it has been with negative connotation and a shudder of disgust, even bitter hatred. He is a person that has influenced people and politics in abundance. With regards to Liberation Theology, Marxism has been implied as inspiration. Karl Marx, Communism, Socialism and any structure or individual finding identity in relation to these entities are frowned upon and determine the immanence of division. I have felt the fear. Where there is fear, I tend to become curious.
There are many people who are scared to walk around downtown at night. Perhaps, this is natural and normal; this is fear. There are times that I have been running in the hills, on trails in the middle of the night and, seeing eyes shining out from darkness has created a deep concern in me; this is fear. I know the streets as a living room for many of my friends; I never know what to expect. Fear of the unknown, that which is lurking in the dark out beyond the margins the light of my headlamp could reach, created a preparedness for me to one day meet a cougar and respond well.
Fear seems to be drawing me deeper into learning of that which resides out there, in the unknown. One of those unknowns, seemingly a distant friend to a hero of the faith, Dorothy Day, is Karl Marx. I have ceased putting walls up and am becoming curious for the truth of one who has seemingly been blacklisted by the history that I was born into. So, what was the story of the history that I was born into that might find the thought of Karl Marx a threat? Another question that left me slightly befuddled the other day, who controls the history that I am offered as true history? Fear, I am curious. However, I find the pursuit for true history already so tiring.
Despite a growing interest in the subject of Karl Marx, I understand that I will not fully know the truth of his heart and hope for people and justice, truth and equality. I know that he said some things that don’t resonate with people who are wealthy (‘the possessor of labour-power’5) and religious. Karl Marx, as far as I have learned (which is not so far yet), had an issue with any systems and structures that he perceived were repressive and created a dynamic of exploitation and enslavement over people. Exposed, in his ‘Communist Manifesto’ was the struggle of the proletariat (of the working class) under the bourgeois class, ‘they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.’6 His encouragement, for the oppressed worker, was revolution.7
For those who have been oppressed under the tyranny of such an egoism as the bourgeoisie can express, strength to stand and revolt has been found in the writing of Marx. Therefore, I can understand the fear of Marx for the potential in his writing. I understand that there is more for me to learn with regards to the exploitation and negligent use of his work. Still, Day and Maurin, found belonging and voice in the battle cry of Marx for the dignity and just treatment of the worker. They would not have identified themselves as Marxist, perhaps, however tenants of Marxism most certainly inspired their Catholic Socialism and personalist ideals.
They lived with them, having assumed poverty voluntarily, ‘the unemployed, the sick, the unemployables.’8Their stories were lived, in the lives of Dorothy and Peter, every day. These were lives that they believed in, they were crushed for their crushing, and they stood for their liberation. Marx would have been proud of them, even, perhaps of their faith (which may be difficult for some to believe), as the true character and nature of Jesus inspired them in the pursuit of rest for the exploited worker. Their farms and houses continue to contain stories of healing and belonging for those beat out by stronger competition for position and broken by the demands of the ones who hold the wealth.
Jesus lived with them. Jesus understood poverty, he was born into it as he was born into a system that was oppressive. Dorothy spotlights Peter Maurin’s teaching on ‘Christ’s technique, of working from the bottom and with the few, of self-discipline and self-organization, of sacrifice rather than enlightened self-interest and of course, of the synthesis of cult, culture and cultivation.’9 She was ambitious for Jesus, committed to Him and the hope for an experience of a good life for everyone. This was her love and faithfulness. Her fear, that drew her into an ever-deepening curiosity, being alone and by her solidarity, ‘the long loneliness to be faced.’10
- Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist (New York, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1952), 42.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 42.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 227.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 231.
- Karl Marx, “Capital: Volume One,” in Selected writings, ed. Lawrence H. Simon (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Pucblishing Company, Inc., 1994), 273.
- Karl Marx and Frederich Engles, Manifesto of the Communist Party (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1888), 43.
- Marx and Engles, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 46.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 215.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 221.
- Day, The Long Loneliness, 273.