Monday, May 16, 2011

Paul Kurtz and Marxist humanism (2)

Here are a couple of more pertinent references.

Re-enchantment: A New Enlightenment, Editorial by Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 3.

Here are two quotes:
The Enlightenment's quest for knowledge inspired numerous scientists, philosophers, and poets, including Goethe, Bentham, Mill, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Einstein, Crick, and Watson.
Regrettably, post-World War II Parisian savants spawned a vulgar post-modernist cacophony of Heideggerian-Derridian mush. Incoherent as some of their rhetoric may be, it has been influential in its rejection of the Enlightenment, the ethics of humanism, scientific objectivity, and democratic values. This literary-philosophical movement had made great inroads in the academy, especially within humanities faculties (though, fortunately, it is already being discredited in France itself). But it has taken a terrible toll, undermining confidence in any progressive agendas of emancipation. In part such thinking is an understandable response to the two grotesque twentieth-century ideologies—fascism and Stalinism—that dominated the imagination of so many supporters in Europe and betrayed human dignity on the butcher block of repression and genocide. "After Auschwitz," wrote Theodor Adorno, we cannot praise "the grandeur of man." Surely the world has recovered from that historical period of aberrant bestiality. However, many intellectuals are still disillusioned because of the failure of Marxism to deliver on the perceived promises of socialism, in which they had invested such faith. Whatever the causes of pessimism, we cannot abandon our efforts at reform or at spreading knowledge and enlightenment. We cannot give in to nihilism or self-defeating subjectivism. Although science has often been co-opted by various military-technological powers for anti-humanistic purposes, it also can help fulfill ennobling humanitarian goals.
1962-1975: High expectations, lean years | International Humanist and Ethical Union

The IHEU member organizations undertook a program of dialogues in the '60s:
In the mid-sixties a series of 'dialogues' was started. The main dialogues were those with the Roman Catholics and Marxists, but many others were attempted-though only few attempts were successful. The dialogues were meant: 1 to clarify ideas and correct misunderstandings about the other party; 2 to bridge ideological gaps-not by minimizing differences but by establishing modes of communication; 3 to support humanist minorities within for example the Catholic Church. 'By our communication we say: you are not alone'; 4 as 'a critique of our own self-righteousness [...] We learn that humanism is not the sole possession of an "elect"; that our "wisdom" is only wise in confrontation and [...] before the continuing question'.
On the dialogues with Marxists:
Dialogues with Protestant Christians have never been very successful. Since 1967 IHEU approached the World Council of Churches (WCC) to discuss the possibilities of constructive co-operation, and in 1968 the IHEU Chairman and Secretary personally visited Geneva for talks with the WCC. To no avail, the Council turned out to be not interested. On the other hand, an IHEU dialogue with the Marxists seemed more promising. In the late 1960s, several Eastern European countries tried to carve out a more open and progressive political course that was less dependent on the Soviet Union than before. In particular Dubcek's Czechoslovakia (until 1968), Tito's Yugoslavia and Ceauescu's Romania showed various forms of 'communism with a human face'. This seemed to make a dialogue with them interesting. After several prominent Marxists had been approached in 1967 and 1968, three dialogues took place: Vienna 1968, Herceg-Novi 1969, and Boston 1970. Subjects discussed were alienation, bureaucracy, tolerance, freedom, human nature, social structure, revolution, and social change. The Marxists professed being 'humanists with a Marxist flavor' rather than 'Marxists with a humanist flavor', yet there were profound differences:
'The Marxist humanists were inclined to condone less humane means for the achievement of high purposes and ideals, the non-Marxists from principle did not want to resort to inhumane means, at the risk of not realizing their ideals.'
The hoped-for establishment of a separate section for humanism and ethics by the national philosophical societies succeeded only in Yugoslavia. This Humanist and Ethical Section of the Yugoslav Association of Philosophy (HESYAP) became an associate member of IHEU in 1970 and was promoted to consultative status one year later, apparently as a token of support. In 1970 the dialogue with the Marxist humanists could be continued in Boston, though on a small scale, as only a few Eastern Europeans were able to participate. After that, the dialogues were hampered by increasingly uncooperative Eastern European authorities, and planned dialogues in 1972-1974 were cancelled. Not until 1979 would there be another meeting. However, IHEU found other ways to support the Marxist humanists in their struggle for human rights. When in the early 1970s the HESYAP group was put under increasing pressure by the Yugoslav authorities, IHEU intensified its support, both by issuing public declarations, and by choosing HESYAP figurehead professor Mihailo Markovic as an IHEU co-chairman.
A positive outcome of the dialogues is assessed:
Some humanists have expressed doubts regarding the usefulness of the dialogues. Paul Kurtz, however, who has been present at nearly all the dialogues with Marxists and Catholics, is convinced that they were constructive and they had a significant influence. The dialogues with Marxists, he says, have 'in a modest way helped to convince intellectuals about the importance of humanism. [...] In retrospect, Stojanovic and other philosophers believe that Marxist Humanism had an important role in moving communist countries away from Stalinism and towards democracy.' 

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