“Turn To Him The Other Cheek Also” An Essay on Liberation Theology

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We are all familiar with the following Bible verse about turning the other cheek:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. Do for others just what you want them to do for you.” -Luke 6:27-31

On the individual level, this humility and selflessness is admirable. But according to the political line of the early Bolshevik party, as espoused by Bukharin in The ABCs of Communism,

“…the Christian code runs: ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ In most cases there is an irreconcilable conflict between the principles of communist tactics and the commandments of religion. A communist who rejects the commandments of religion and acts in accordance with the directions of the party, ceases to be one of the faithful. On the other hand, one who, while calling himself a communist, continues to cling to his religious faith, one who in the name of religious commandments infringes the prescriptions of the party, ceases thereby to be a communist.”

But Bukharin, and any other socialist or Marxist who defends this ultra-leftist semi-feudal attitude towards religion, fails to understand the underlying philosophy and basic principles of the Christian faith. Christianity in no way supports “turning the other cheek” to systematic forms of oppression and exploitation with no underlying socioeconomic justification of their social existence.
It can be said that the attitude Christianity takes towards this question is as follows, “If you oppress me or strike me as an individual, I shall turn the other cheek. But if you oppress or strike my neighbor, my brother, or my sister, and do so on a systematic basis, then I will not hesitate to deliver them from the yoke of oppression you have forced upon them”.
This is a principle that is fully in line with the basic tenets of the Christian faith:
“This is what the LORD says: “Uphold justice and righteousness. Deliver from their oppressor those who have been robbed. Don’t mistreat or do violence to the alien, the orphan, or the widow, or shed the blood of innocent people in this place.”
-Jeremiah 22:3
Taking into context the historical materialist view on human history, it is no surprise that the Bolsheviks took a hostile attitude towards religion and the church, especially given the backward state of the Russian Empire. The ruling class of each age uses religion, as it uses every other instrument available in the existing superstructure of society, to legitimize its social rule and existence as a class regardless of the actual principles of a religious faith which often are directly opposed to the ‘ethics’ and ideas of the ruling class. But the Bolsheviks did not oppose religion on this basis, on the basis of the Russian Orthodox Church’s reverence of the Tsar as holy, of its antisemitism, of its persecution of protestants and atheists alike, of its semi-feudal and bourgeois character. On the contrary, it opposed religion as such, as a matter of principle. This was one of the most tragic mistakes of the Bolshevik party, a mistake I have elaborated on ceaselessly before.
Take for instance the sign of the cross. What is the cross? In ancient times the cross was not a religious symbol at all, on the contrary, it was a symbol of the political repression and state terror of the Roman Empire. It is easy to forget this fact after 20 odd millenniums of human social development, but the adaptation of the symbol of the cross by the adherents to the Christian faith was the radical transformation of a weapon of the oppressor into the weapon of the oppressed. This is precisely what Liberation Theology and Christian Communism attempts to do today. It takes Christianity, which has been converted by the bourgeoisie into a tool to justify its own existence and oppression of the poor, and it converts it into a weapon of the oppressed to be used against the oppressor. Not only does it do that, but it abolishes the ruling class character of Christianity which has been used to distort the principles of Christianity and  justify oppressive social systems for nearly 2000 years. It brings Christianity back to its roots, which are undeniably communistic in nature.
According to Rosa Luxemburg, in her pamphlet Socialism and the Churches (a pamphlet I recommend anyone interested in this topic to check out),

“The Social-Democrats want to bring about the state of ‘communism’; that is chiefly what the clergy have against them. First of all, it is striking to notice that the priests of today who fight against ‘Communism’ condemn in reality first Christian Apostles. For these latter were nothing else than ardent communists…”

After going into great detail as to the specifics of the communistic nature of the early Christians and the Christian faith, she reiterates her attack on bourgeois Christianity, an attack we can say is still valid against the mainstream, conservative Christianity of today,

“But it is in vain that you put yourselves about, you degenerate servants of Christianity who have become the servants of Nero. It is in vain that you help our murderers and our killers, in vain that you protect the exploiters of the proletariat under the sign of the cross. Your cruelties and your calumnies in former times could not prevent the victory of the Christian idea, the idea which you have sacrificed to the Golden Calf; today your efforts will raise no obstacle to the coming of Socialism. Today it is you, in your lies and your teachings, who are pagans, and it is we who bring to the poor, to the exploited the tidings of fraternity and equality. It is we who are marching to the conquest of the world as he did formerly who proclaimed that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

She finishes by stressing, directly in opposition to the ultra-leftist, semi-feudal attitude of the Bolsheviks, the compatibility between religion and socialism saying,

“And here is the answer to all the attacks of the clergy: the Social-Democracy in no way fights against religious beliefs. On the contrary, it demands complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion. But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation. For he who defends the exploiters and who helps to prolong this present regime of misery, he is the mortal enemy of the proletariat, whether he be in a cassock or in the uniform of the police.”

Christianity teaches love, humility, forgiveness, mercy and justice at the same time. These principles are not hypocritical to one another, but rather they express themselves dialectically in the living action of the holy spirit as embodied in the believers of Christianity and its teachings. The philosophy this embodies best is not a Kantian resistance to all forms of liberation struggles on the grounds of universal standpoint of morality as many on the right-wing claim, but rather an adherence to taking whatever path causes the least possible social harm to others. On an individual level, it would be harmful and morally indefensible to lash out violently against someone because a wrong or form of oppression they caused you. This is what turning the other cheek means. Many ultra-leftists fail to understand this principle. They sink into degeneracy and moral cowardice, they abandon the basic ethics of socialism and Christianity alike when they enthusiastically celebrate the death or killing of a police officer or a capitalist or a landlord- as if the crimes of an entire social class manifest themselves entirely into a single individual, a product of the world they were born into, who probably never questioned the fundamental superstructure of society at all! Such despicable “celebratory remarks” are innately anti-socialist in character.

It is on the social basis alone that socialism wages the class struggle, that the ethics of Christianity wholeheartedly support. It seeks, yes, first and foremost to liberate the poor and oppressed, but its goal is the liberation of the whole of humanity without exception. It seeks to make life better for all and not merely for the oppressed. It does this for the former oppressor on a spiritual level, if not a material one. By abolishing the antagonism of social classes, socialism reconciles the former bourgeoisie and the former proletariat into a single class, the working class, and thereby it creates a classless society. This represents even for the former bourgeois, a liberation from the immorality of exploitation and the moral bankruptcy caused by living off of the labor of the poor. This represents also, the abolition of the social conditions which cause the petty-bourgeois to go bankrupt and homeless after a business they start fails, or when the investments a bourgeois has placed into a single company collapses in a stock market crisis, bringing the sum total of an entire life’s work to naught. Socialism and Christianity support the class war because it causes the least possible social harm.

Some would argue that Christianity and Communism are incompatible on the grounds of the “violence” revolutionary socialism has historically employed. Ignoring the pacifism of some socialists, we must say that if socialism utilizes positive violence, it does so as a tragic necessity (and it rarely does so). It does so only as a reaction to, and in an effort to stifle counter-revolutionary violence. Socialism seeks to abolish the negative violence represented by the toil and sweat, cold and homelessness, heartbreak and hidden tears of the oppressed, of the working class and the poor. Socialism struggles to make the state itself superfluous, the organization in our society with a monopoly on violence that forcefully maintains the existence of class society. Negative violence is itself a form of violence. As fellow comrade and Christian Communist blogger Christian Chiakulas (who’s blog you can find here) said,

“In a world that produces enough food to feed each and every one of us, starvation is violence.  In a society where vacant houses outnumber homeless people six to one, homelessness is violence.  A country in which health insurance companies rake in billions in profits while leaving nearly thirty million people uninsured and unable to access medical care is a violent society.

This is the everyday violence of capitalism – if it is profitable to let somebody die, or languish in abject poverty, we do so.  That is a violent society.”

Christianity opposes violence as a tactic when at all possible, but when the path to reconciliation of a social contradiction that is profoundly violent can only be reconciled by a lesser violence alone, that is the path it takes. Non-action is itself a form of action, it is better to act and cause a little harm than to refuse to act, and in moral cowardice, cause a far greater harm by not acting. This is the moral justification on which Christianity has supported just wars over the centuries. This moral justification is no different when it comes to socialist tactics. It does not, as no socialist should, glorify or fetishize acts of violence. But it does not take a liberal Kantian attitude towards the question either.

Jesus said “turn to him the other cheek also” because non-action in this case causes the least possible social harm. Despite the claims of various ruling classes over the centuries, Christian ethics is not and never has taken such a position of non-action towards social and systematic forms of oppression and exploitation, at which point the slogan “liberate the oppressed from the oppressor” comes into play. If a form of oppression or exploitation are historical necessities (as slave, feudal, and bourgeois society was), Christianity sought to reduce the violence associated with this antagonism on the individual and systemic level, even if the ruling class hijacked Christianity for its own ends. It did this because we live in a “fallen world”, in an effort to cause the least amount of harm possible. It did not take a Utopian stance towards a revolution during the early Roman Empire. It did seek to build a communist society within the community of believers by peaceful means, who held all property in common. Even if the experiment failed and had no social basis to succeed, the first act of the early Christians was an attempt to establish a communist society. Christianity has never been opposed to struggles for social justice or liberation. Because we have the means to realize the communistic society the early Christians hoped to build, to eradicate poverty, hunger, and homelessness on a global level, Christians and socialists alike should support the fight to realize such a society. There ought to be no contradiction between socialism and Christianity. The symbol of the cross alone repels the advocates of continuing the existing order of misery and oppression. Let the symbol of the cross bury the present bourgeois society as it buried the Roman Empire! Let that be the slogan of Christianity today!

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