Posted on 28 Feb 2013

EXCHANGE OVER DOROTHY DAY’S MARXIST VIEWS

runkel

February 28, 2013: We recently received this message from Phil Runkel, who is responsible for “Catholic social action holdings (including the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection)” at Marquette University. http://www.marquette.edu/library/about/bio/runkel.shtml

His message and Carol Byrne’s response follows:

Dear Mr. Kincaid:

As curator of the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection for over three decades, I can attest to the integrity of the scholars who have written on the movement. Their works were based in many cases on extensive research in the Marquette University Archives. I have come across no credible evidence to suggest that Day was a Marxist after her conversion in 1927. People are welcome to consult her papers and judge for themselves.

Peace,

Phil Runkel
Archivist
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Raynor Memorial Libraries
Marquette University

Carol Byrne Responds:

Mr. Runkel’s remark suggests that he does not think it worthwhile to consider any other view of Dorothy Day than those put forward by a minuscule band of her supporters who have done research in the Marquette Archives. But as a special interest group who had already nailed their colors to the Catholic Worker flag, their works can hardly be regarded as unbiased. Their biographies of Day are little more than position papers intended to publicize and recommend Day’s personal views on how society should be ordered. My point is that they should not be allowed to claim a private monopoly of the interpretation of Day’s work or exercise control over what the rest of the Church should think about her.

As to the question that Day continued to be a Marxist after her conversion, Mr. Runkel does not exactly deny this – he simply states that he has “come across no credible evidence” for it. Failure to perceive evidence does not constitute proof for his case that Day was not a Marxist.

For someone to be a Marxist, he or she must hold Karl Marx in high regard and subscribe to a significant number (though not necessarily all) of recognized Marxist theories. It is important to realize that there has always been a great breadth and variety of Marxist thinkers, including in the Christian tradition and even in the Catholic Church.

In her writings Day, of course, denied several times that she was a Marxist, but there are good grounds for believing that she stood in the intellectual tradition that started with Marx and that she was inspired by figures (both Communist and anarchist) who developed Marxist themes such as Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Che Guevara, Kropotkin, Proudhon, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Rosa Luxemburg, to name some of the most prominent. (These and many others, such as Saul Alinsky, are mentioned by name as the object of her admiration in the pages of the Catholic Worker.)

catholic_workerAs for Marx himself, Day often presented him in CW as a man deserving of the highest admiration. She did not mention the many details of his life which would revolt the sensibilities of any decent person. And she ignored the effects of his Communist Manifesto which inspired governments known primarily for atrocities committed not only against other nations, but against their own people.

Day stated, or rather quoted Communist Roger Garaudy as stating, that “Karl Marx has shown us how we can change the world.” (CW April 1957) As one example of her aim to bring Marx’s thinking into the Catholic Church, especially through the Worker-Priest Movement which was riddled with Marxism, she also stated that “most of our priests” who were “sons of working men” were lacking in “the leadership that the workers have had in Karl Marx, in his analysis of the social order.” (CW March 1947)

Examples abound in CW and in Day’s other writings of her firm faith in Marx’s analysis of the social order.

Here are a few examples that came straight from the Communist Manifesto:

Day upheld Marx’s labor theory of value which posits that the worker-employer relationship is inherently exploitative and reduces the worker to a pawn in the capitalist system of production. She stated: “the manufacturer robs and cheats the poor” (CW February 1945) and that the workers were “pawns of capitalist and imperialist gain”. (CW October 1939) She concluded that the remedy was the “abolition of the wage system” (CW May 1953) (called for by Marx) and that there should be “no longer an employer-wage-earner relationship.” (CW May 1972)

Like Marx, she called for a society without social classes, and stated that the Catholic Worker was “pointing the way to a new order, a classless society.” (CW March-April 1970)

She also upheld two other tenets of Marxism: We do believe in, ‘from each according to is ability, to each according to his need.’ We believe in the ‘withering away of the State.’ (CW November 1949)

Day even echoed Marx’s famous slogan when she stated that “We also know that religion, as the Marxists have always insisted, has, too often, like an opiate, tended to put people to sleep to the reality and the need for the present struggle for peace and justice.” (CW November 1959)

The ideas found in these samples share a number of thematic roots: class warfare, antagonism between worker and employer, denigration of the clergy, anti-capitalism, abolition of inequalities, and anarchism – all ingredients of the Marxist dialectic which is rooted in atheistic Communism. Yet Day sought to convince people that they were compatible with a Christian view and could be incorporated into the teaching of the Catholic Church. A fuller treatment of the issue is contained in my book.

To deny, in the face of all this evidence, that Day was a Marxist is to deny reality and propound a myth. Her supporters must face a choice between two opposing ways of looking at Day: either draw a line in the sand, or bury their heads in it.

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