The nineteenth century saw the origins
of both Marxism and the Bahá'í Faith, Teach with its central
figures, its basic writings and documents, its vision of the future, and its
plans to achieve world unity. The ideas of Karl Marx, either in their original
form or in one of their many variations, have influenced political, social, and
economic thought and action in a large part of the world. They are based on
a materialistic view of mankind and of reality, and they have appealed to
intellectuals, reformers, revolutionaries, and common people alike. The
ideas of Bahá'u'lláh, in the tradition of the world's great
religions, are based upon a spiritual view of mankind and of reality, and
appeal to an equally wide range of people.
These two views of reality--the material and the spiritual--each claiming
to be the right view, the truth, the way things really are, compete in the
world arena for the allegiance of mankind, each with its particular analysis
and diagnosis of the human predicament, each with its remedy based on its
distinctive view of the real world. Over the last century, both Marxism and
the Bahá'í Faith have grown and expanded, have attracted
followers and critics, champions and opponents. Though based on different
premises and principles, each has a program for social reform and
reconstruction, a plan for improving the human condition.
To help Bahá'ís understand Marxist principles and practices,
the Association for Bahá'í Studies, with the encouragement
of the Universal House of Justice, convened a meeting in January 1986 at
the Louhelen Bahá'í School in Michigan. There, a dialogue was
initiated between a number of Bahá'ís and Marxists in an
effort to create better understanding on both sides, through scholarly
presentations and discussions aimed at substituting fact for fancy,
presenting solid substance instead of idle speculation, exploring common
ground, and identifying important differences in goals and strategies.
The sessions focussed on three major themes:
- The nature of
the human being and of society: assumptions about human nature and
societies; philosophical origins, influences, and traditions, as expressed in
Marxist and Bahá'í thought.
- Strategies and processes
for social change: how is change best brought about; how do basic principles
apply to real situations; what dynamics and processes of change are
advocated; what is the ultimate objective?
- Social and economic
development: a study and analysis of current examples drawn from Marxist
societies and from Bahá' í communities.
papers collected here formed the basis of lively and far-reaching
discussions, which, unfortunately proved too difficult to summarize. Besides, as most of the ninety participants would say, "You
had to be there!"
A very special note of appreciation must be extended to the three
Marxists, who, outnumbered as they were, patiently, graciously, generously,
and with great good humour, contributed to the dialogue:
Laurie E. Adkin, Queen's University
Dr. Howard Buchbinder, York
Dr. Colin Leys, Queen's University
The Bahá'í viewpoint was clearly and ably presented by Dr.
Farzam Arbab of Cali, Colombia; Mrs. Sheila Banani, Santa Monica, California;
Dr. William Hatcher, Laval University, Quebec City, Canada; and Mr. John
Huddleston, International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC.
While the papers published here do not pretend to be definitive or
comprehensive about either Marxism or the Bahá'í Faith, they
do identify some issues of paramount importance in the conduct of human
affairs. It is the hope of the Association for Bahá'í Studies
that this dialogue, so well begun, will continue, not only between Marxists
and Bahá'ís but also among all people concerned with
carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization. It is through such
consultation that unity of purpose can be created as we come closer to
understanding our essential nature.
On behalf of all those who attended this memorable meeting, we express
our sincere thanks to the Directors of Louhelen Bahá'í School
at that time, Drs. Geoffry Marks and William Diehl, and to their associates
for their unstinting hospitality, quiet efficiency, good food, and good
Glen Eyford, PhD
different papers from the dialogue between a number of Marxists and a
group of Bahá'ís were put together for this volume, the
editors saw the necessity for an introduction that would somehow clarify
the position of Association for Bahá'í Studies, both in
sponsoring the meeting and in producing this publication. Such an
introduction seems to be especially necessary since the volume includes
only the original
papers presented at the conference and makes no reference to the
resulting discussions that pointed to areas of mutual concern and also to
rather profound differences. The reader, then, reads about two groups, each
presenting their own points of view, and sees no account of the ensuing
interaction. The result may be confusing, and, therefore, a brief discussion
of some of the shared concepts as well as the disagreements and
divergences is in order.
An event sponsored by the Association for Bahá'í Studies as
a dialogue between Marxist thinkers and a group of Bahá'ís
should be understood in the general context of the attempts of
Bahá'ís everywhere to share ideas with diverse groups away
from the usual environment of conflict, accusations, and propaganda. Such
efforts carried out in an atmosphere of friendship help to bring people of
diverse ideologies closer instead of contributing to the separation and
alienation that abound in today's society. The Louhelen meeting certainly
achieved this essential condition of harmonious exchange of ideas and led
to richer understanding of the issues by all the participants.
It must be remembered that the dialogue was about two systems of
thought, one a religion, and the other, in spite of the efforts at
reconciliation with certain religious groups, inherently and explicitly
materialistic. Yet, there is a difference between the materialism of a well-
informed Marxist and a typical atheist or agnostic immersed in the liberal
tradition of the West. The latter, explicitly or implicitly, questions the very
act of believing, adopts as absolute truth the claim that all truth is relative,
and in a certain sense, sees truth as a product of the negotiations and the
compromises of well-meaning liberal people. The Marxist, however, does
not label firm belief and commitment as fanaticism and does not accept the
simplistic definitions of objectivity as a norm for social exploration. One's
belief system does shape the way one sees and interprets social reality,
and the totally open mind of the objective individual divorced from all
social commitment and vision is an element of fantasy of th
e liberal tradition. This attitude towards the understanding of reality was a
welcome aspect of the Louhelen meeting and allowed both groups to begin
their conversations by making explicit the very framework used by each to
look at reality and analyze relevant issues.
In examining the Marxist conceptual framework, Bahá'ís need
to separate in their minds the part that corresponds to the criticism of
"bourgeois' or "liberal" thought and the actual assertions of Marxism about
topics such as
human nature, the purpose of life, and the meaning of history--parts that
Marxists often mix in their introductory presentations. Separating these
two sets of ideas, Bahá'ís would easily agree with much of
the criticism, the utter rejection of a view of the human being as a bundle of
appetites needing satisfaction, or a possessor of things (including
capacities, talents, and the ability to work) that are to be sold in the
market place. Bahá'ís would also agree wholeheartedly with
the criticism of a concept of liberty that considers the individual as
supreme, defines the limits of freedom as the points of contact of the
sphere of liberty of one supreme individual with those of others, and leads
human beings to see in others not
the fulfilment but the limitation of their own freedom. The validity of the
Marxist belief in the potentials of the human being for their own sake, in the
fact that man is a social being, or in a society in which the full and free
development of each individual is the ruling principle, would not be denied
either. But it must be remembered that at the basis of these convictions
lies the fundamental principle of Marxism, that of historical materialism.
Taken in its strictest form or even with modifications, historical
materialism finally sees both the human being and society as a product of
the interaction of man with nature, and all social institutions, including the
family, as mainly (if not solely) determined by the mode of production.
Although collective human action is regarded as the most essential factor
of historical progress, the underlying force of the liberation of man from
bondage is technological progress, which allows the necessary changes in
the relations of production. The point, of course, is not that the mode of
production affects human behaviour or social structures (which is after all a
trivial statement) but that it is the main determining factor explaining
historical development. Here the differences with the Bahá'í
view of the spiritual nature of the soul (not simply in terms of the
production of art and beauty, but in terms of its connection with the Creator
and the spiritual worlds He has created) as well as the co
ncepts of Manifestation and Revelation are of an irreconcilable nature.
Unfortunately, the difference is not simply in words, it does affect both the
proposed solutions to the human predicament and the methods and means
chosen for the implementation of those solutions.
To say that the conceptual frameworks are irreconcilable does not imply
that the two systems of thought cannot see certain problems in the same
way, cannot agree on a number of immediate (as opposed to basic) causes,
or have some elements of their vision of the future world in common. That
the problems faced by humanity should not be analyzed in isolation from the
deep-rooted causes of social crisis; that there is an urgent need for change
in the structure of human society; that worker alienation is a social evil,
rooted in present-day structures, which must be eliminated; or that the
causes of war are a set of complex and interrelated factors, which include
exploitation and social injustice, are a few examples of common views that
can be shared and used to further mutual understanding and respect. But
other issues related to the course of history and the position individuals
and groups must adopt as they work for the transformation of human
society must be examined far more carefully, and the reader will not find
the corresponding discussions in the present publication.
In looking for the needed answers, Bahá'ís will simply
continue the present path of the development of their communities within
their Administrative Order as they try to apply the Revelation of
Bahá'u'lláh to all aspects of human endeavour. Many of the
Marxist answers will depend on how Marxism will emerge from the crisis of
the past few decades and how it will modify its concepts of class, of
conflict, of power, and finally of historical materialism especially in terms
of the sources of ethical and moral judgements that have to be made in
every attempt to bring about social change.
See the rest of this book, chapters 1-6, at The Bahá'í Faith and Marxism.
LAURIE E. ADKIN
is a doctoral candidate in the Political
Studies Department of Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Her doctoral
thesis is on the relationship between the Labour Movement and the
Environmental Movement in Canada. Ms. Adkin's previous work was in the
area of Third World development, with Latin America as her area of
specialty. Her master's thesis treated the development of rural classes in El
Salvador. She has also taught in the area of British and Italian politics.
FARZAM ARBAB was born in Tehran and educated in the United
States. He received a BA from Amherst College in 1964 and a PhD in
theoretical physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968. In
1969, he travelled with his family to Colombia, where they now reside. Dr.
Arbab is the director of FUNDEAC, a program of education and rural
development in Colombia. He served on the National Spiritual Assembly of
the Bahá'ís of Colombia from 1970 to November of 1980,
when he was appointed to the Board of Counsellors for the Propagation and
Protection of the Bahá'í Faith in the Americas.
HOWARD BUCHBINDER is Professor of Political Science at York
University, Downsview, Ontario.
GLEN EYFORD is Professor of Development Studies and Adult
Education in the Faculty of Education, University of Alberta at Edmonton.
Professor Eyford's master's and doctoral theses pertained to
communication and mass media, nonformal education, international
development, and culture and development. He is the author of numerous
articles on international and community development. Professor Eyford is a
member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada.
WILLIAM S. HATCHER is Professor of Mathematics in the Faculty of
Science and Engineering at Laval University in Quebec City. After receiving
bachelor's and master's degrees from Vanderbilt University, he received
his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Neuchâtel,
Switzerland in 1963 with a thesis in mathematical logic. He has since
published numerous articles and research papers in the mathematical
sciences. His most recent book on mathematics is The Logical
Foundations of Mathematics (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982), and he
recently co-authored with Douglas Martin The Bahá'í Faith:
The Emerging Global Religion (New York: Harper & Row,1985), which
received mention as one of the year's best one hundred books by the
Encyclopedia Brittanica in 1986. Professor Hatcher is an active member of
several scientific and professional organizations and, in 1979, was elected
to serve a three-year term on the Council of the Association for Symbolic
Logic. Professor Hatcher also serves on the National Spiritual Assembly of
the Bahá'ís of Canada.
FAITH AND MARXISM
JOHN HUDDLESTON holds an honour's degree in Modern History,
Economics and Politics from the University of Manchester, England. He is
currently the Chief of the Budget and Planning Division of the International
Monetary Fund, Washington, DC. He is the author of The Earth is But One
Country (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980),
"Marxism: A Bahá'í Perspective," in Circle of Unity (Los
Angeles: Kalimýt Press, 1984), and The Search for the Just Society (Cyprus: One World Publishing, forthcoming).
COLIN LEYS is Professor of Political Studies at Queen's University,
Kingston, Ontario. He studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford
University and has taught at Kivukoni College, Dar es Salaam, and at the
Universities of Oxford, Makere (Uganda), Sussex, Nairobi, Chicago, and
Sheffield. Professor Leys has published extensively on Africa, and his most
recent book is Politics in Britain (London: Verso, 1986).