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Irving Howe

Religion: A Former Marxist Runs
to Supernatural Cover

(10 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 6, 10 February 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Readers familiar with the American radical movement, will remember Will Herberg. During its short-lived existence, the Lovestone group (them“right” Communists) found in Herberg one of its theoreticians. As such he was noted for a certain intellectual, nimbleness, if not profundity.

When the Lovestone group committed suicide at the beginning of the war by a mass dissolution, virtually all of its people retired from socialism entirely. Many of them discovered that life as an appointe official of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union could be quite comfortable; and since the Social Democratic leadership of that union has a liking for ex-revolutionists cynical enough to work in its hire, it found jobs for the Lovestonites. For an EX-revolutionist, it can always find a job.

Herberg maintained his quiet existence as a minor bureaucrat until recently, when he resumed literary activity. He gravitated, naturally enough, to Dwight Macdonald’s Politics, where he participated in that magazine’s massed flight from revolutionary socialism with an essay urging the substitution of religious values for science. And now he has come out with a full-fledged statement, From Marxism to Judaism. (Commentary, January 1947)

The title tells the story perfectly, and it is such a truly pitiful – I mean that literally: truly pitiful – performance that it might be charitable to pass the article by in silence. Yet if only by its embarrassing extremity, it should provide a sobering check for those intellectuals toying, in one way or another, with religious conceptions. For Herberg’s article reads as if deliberately written to provide an illustration for John Dewey’s attack on the modern flight from science and reason, and as a contemporary instance of a perennial phenomenon in periods of political reaction. Who, familiar with the history of the socialist movement, can read this frank call for supernatural values without remembering the “God Seekers,” who, after the defeat of the 1905 Russian Revolution, abandoned socialist politics and went off in search of absolute Godliness?

How else is one to explain such atavistic nonsense as Herberg’s declaration that “the affirmation of freedom of the individual person can be grounded in nothing less ultimate than the belief that he. is created in the image of God”? This is the final wretched, pitiful instance of the intellectuals retreat; and if we note the moral, believe us that it is not to crow, but rather to point to this caricature of the trend in order to make clearer its meaning.

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