A Miscellany of Study

Category: Herbert McCabe

Unity in Struggle

In fact the only approach we have to a real unity is the solidarity of the poor and the exploited against their oppressors: we have to recognise both that this is so and that it is not enough.  It is just the nearest we can get to unity.  We have to recognise that the only God we know is the God of the poor, the God who takes sides in the struggle, and that any God of consensus who is supposed to belong to both sides is an illusion and a dangerous one.  Sorting out the sides is, of course, a delicate business because though God is not on both sides we are: God is a God of judgement because he is love.  We do not have ‘God on our side’, and this is not because God is neutral but because we are compromised.  We have to see that there is no other God to be known except the God of the oppressed, ‘The Lord your God who brought you out of the land of slavery… you shall have no gods’; and yet this is not yet to know God.  The Church must be the Church of the poor — this is the sign that she is on the way to the kingdom; it also shows she is not there.  St Thomas says that we have sacraments (that is to say, the visible sacred life of the Christian cult) because of sin; and, of course, we make an ‘option for the poor’ because of sin: when we have passed from the world of sin to the kingdom all this will wither away.  For St Thomas, as for Karl Marx, organised religion is the symptom of human alienation and will not outlast it.  Bourgeois anti-clericalism and atheism such as flourished in the nineteenth century and still persists today is the expression of the belief that human alienation has already been radically overcome by the French Revolution, the Enlightenment and the dawn of liberal capitalism.  Neither Christians nor Marxists see things that way.  There is no real unity to the world, the only authentic unity is in the struggle, and it is because this is our real unity here and now that we can only express the Kingdom sacramentally.  We can see humankind itself as one only in mystery, in the gesture towards the reality that is to come.  We can only see God in mystery, as the reality that is to come.  We cannot see love except in hints and guesses of what is to come. (78-79)

Herbert McCabe | “Holy Thursday: the mystery of unity” in God Matters

What is the Class Struggle?

First of all, so that we shall not be altogether at cross purposes, a word about what the class struggle is.  This will have to be a very simplified, even an over-simplified, word, but I want to be as brief as possible.  The class struggle is not, in the first place, a struggle between the haves and the have-nots.  It has very little to do with what people in England call ‘class distinctions’, meaning a peculiarly English kind of snobbery.  It is not differences of wealth that cause class differences, but class differences that cause differences of wealth.  The worker by his labour creates a certain amount of wealth, only part of which is returned to him in the form of wages, etc.  The rest is appropriated by the employer, or capitalist, so called because his function is to accumulate capital in this way.  The capitalist receives from a great many workers the extra wealth which they produce but do not need for their subsistence and minimal contentment, and bringing all this wealth together he is able to invest, to provide the conditions under which more work may be done — and so on.  On this fundamental division between worker and employer the whole class system rests.  The worker is whoever by productive work actually creates wealth.  The employer is not simply anyone who makes overall decisions about what work shall be done and how; he is the one who takes the surplus wealth created by the worker and uses it (in his own interests of course) as capital.  Capitalism is just the system in which capital is accumulated for investment, in their own interests, by a group of people who own the means of production and employ large numbers of other people who do not own the means of production but produce both the wealth which they receive back in wages and the surplus wealth which is used for investment by the owners.


Under such a feudal set-up the rich man is one who lives more luxuriously than others; a capitalist is quite a different matter.  He is not, except maybe incidentally, a rich man living in luxury; he is a man whose function is to accumulate capital and invest it.  He has no slaves or serfs to keep in subjection and correspondingly no job of protecting anyone.  There are no customary dues, no recognised rights and obligations, no privileges, no servility.  There emerges what Marx calls ‘civil society’.  Theoretically at any rate everyone is free, they are only bound by the contract they enter into.  The worker has something to sell as dearly as possible, his labour, and the capitalist wants to buy it as cheaply as possible so as to have the maximum left over for capital investment.  In this matter their interests fundamentally conflict. (187-189)

Herbert McCabe | “The class struggle and Christian love” in God Matters