Marxism/Communism/Socialism and Its Impact on Current “Hot-Button” Issues
Marxism is a topic that is crucial to understand in today’s culture. Roughly 1 in 5 professors in the social sciences consider themselves Marxists, the majority of the founders of Black Lives Matter claim to be “trained Marxists,” parts of Portland and Seattle have been burned and trashed in the name of “revolution,” and Bernie Sanders came alarmingly close to becoming the Democratic nominee for president. Marxism is one of those worldview threads that is woven through a surprising number of controversial tapestries.
We have been running a worldview class this fall and we have come to the point in the class where we overview our approach for applying a Biblical worldview to “hot button” issues in our culture. Click here for that blog post. We have been incredibly inspired by the group of almost fifty students and parents who have participated in the class. We hope this is a helpful additional resource for them, as well as others.
Defining Our Terms
Here are some terms you need to know before we can dig further into this topic. These definitions are modified from the book, Understanding the Times: A Survery of Competing Worldviews by Jeff Myers (president of Summit Ministries) and David A. Noebel (founder of Summit Ministries).
Marxism: “an atheistic and materialistic worldview based on the ideas of Karl Marx that promotes the abolition of private property, public ownership of the means of production (i.e., socialism), and the utopian dream of a future communistic state.”
Communism: the Marxist ideal of a classless and stateless utopian society in which all property is commonly owned and each person is paid according to his or her abilities and needs. It basically means “working in common” because all means of production is commonly owned.
Socialism: an economic system based upon governmental or communal ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods and services.
Communist Manifesto: In 1848, Marx published this famous document with the assistance of the young revolutionary, Friedrich Engels (funded ironically with money earned from Engel’s father’s privately owned factory). Here is a quote from the manifesto to get the feel for it: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians [working class] have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. [Proletarians of all countries, unite!]”
Capitalism: an economic system in which capital assets are privately owned, and the prices, production, and distribution of goods and services are determined by competition within a free market.
As Myers and Noebel so aptly point out, “Some think they can date socialism without having to marry communism. Marxists, however, don’t see it that way. Socialism inevitably becomes communism, they say. As for “fellow-traveling” liberals and progressives who do not recognize this and whom communists easily mislead and manipulate, they are—according to Lenin—“dupes” and “useful idiots.”
Death by Communism
Before moving on to the meat of this blog, it is important to acknowledge the scale by which communism and socialism have gone wrong throughout history. And by “wrong” we mean well over a 180 million people tragically killed. Not in wars but by mass slaughter of there own citizens through starvation, shootings, gulags and the like. We will give our explanation of why we feel this happened according to a Christian worldview later in the blog. See Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900, by R.J. Rummel.
What is the Relationship Between Socialism and Communism?
As Myers and Noebel describe, “Socialism and communism are both part of the Marxist’s economic vocabulary, but they are not interchangeable terms. To the Marxist, socialism is the first phase or the first step in the transition to the perfect economic system, which is communism. Socialism begins with heavy taxation, government takeover of businesses, and the elimination of laws protecting private property.”
It is important to note that the Marxist story almost always involves an economic revolution that is supposed to end up in class equality. Overthrowing the exploiters will free the exploited, etc. Have you watched news coverage of the riots in Portland and Seattle and around the country with signs talking about “revolution” and “burn it down,” etc.? Not all of the people using those phrases may realize it, but that is right in line with the kind of revolution that Marxist sympathizers love. And there certainly are many involved in leadership who are fully aware and encourage the Marxist “revolutionary” bent of many of these riots.
Why Is Studying Marxism Relevant Today?
Although the world has numerically few Communist countries (China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba), in terms of population, those countries account for one in five people on the planet. In addition, socialism is the official policy of nations, such as India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Portugal and others. Many countries have very powerful socialist parties, such as France, Greece, Venezuela, Sweden, Norway, Algeria and others. Democratic Socialist parties have strong and often majority influence over the governments of countries such as Sweden, and it follows that Socialist principles are strong in many sectors of those countries.
Marxism also lives on somewhat “in disguise” in various forms, such as something coined “state capitalism” (term first used by the Economist, 2012), which is more socialistic than capitalistic. This is the practice of the federal government taking control of otherwise private businesses with the backing of state capital. China and Russia are known for “state capitalism,” but many American leaders are advocating for moving in that direction in certain sectors, such as healthcare, energy, and banking.
In addition, Marxism has impacted extremely influential political leaders in the United States, as well as the culture as a whole. Bernie Sanders, who came close to being the Democratic presidential candidate in the primaries, is a socialist who enjoyed a romantic honeymoon in the U.S.S.R. back in his younger years. The kind of socialism he espouses is somewhat vague, but he has certainly popularized the general principles (https://www.hoover.org/research/how-socialist-bernie-sanders).
Democratic Socialism is becoming very popular, especially among the younger generation. Democratic socialism is loosely defined as having a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratic political system of government. Most Democratic Socialists typically distance themselves from Marxism–Leninism. Yet they embrace the very radical idea that the means of production in their system are collectively owned; this was one of Marx’s key ideas. For example, the factory would be owned by either the government or the workers; no more starting your own private company because you have a good idea or invention. The largest American socialist party is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). According to the Hoover Institute, “a staff writer for a DSA house publication could not be clearer, ‘In the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism…we want to end our society’s subservience to the market.’” Two members of Congress, and media favorites, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Rashida Tlaib, are members of the DSA.
An unnerving number of university professors seem especially fond of Marxism. Bryan Caplan described the results of a 2006 nationally representative survey of university professors and found that in the social sciences, almost 18%-24% (roughly 1 in 5) professors considered themselves in the “Marxist/Activist/Radical category.” One book that seems to have had a large influence is called Empire, by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, have permeated many political movements, especially among the younger generation. It is basically an update to the Communist Manifesto for current times that Foreign Affairs magazine called a “sweeping neo-Marxist vision of the coming world order.” The authors blame the U.S. and specifically our U.S. Constitution for “reengineering imperialism into a brutal, world-dominating ideology” (Myers and Noebel).
Why are Marxism and Christianity Incompatible?
Marxism is an Atheistic Worldview with a Particular Distaste for Christianity
Marx and his followers certainly viewed Christianity and Marxism as incompatible. Marx’s disciple, Engels, put it this way: “there is absolutely no room for… a creator…” Marx himself famously said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people…” Clearly the Christian worldview believes in a God, so Marxism and Christianity very obviously contradict each other on the point of the existence of God.
Modern proponents of Marxism have also displayed a consistent distaste for Christianity. William Z. Foster, a top official in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and union organizer wrote a book in 1932 called Toward a Soviet America. He wrote, “the churches will remain free to continue their services, but …other privileges will be liquidated. Their buildings will revert to the State. Religious schools will be abolished and organized religious training for minors prohibited.” On the bright side, at least he will let us continue our services.
What about from a Christian perspective? Can Marxism be compatible with a Biblical worldview? Some would say yes, but from our perspective, it is almost an impossible argument to make given the numerous contradictions between the worldviews.
Marxism Asserts Society’s Troubles are Entirely Economic
From the Marxist perspective, the problem with society has everything to do with economics. Basically, our troubles are all about the redistribution of wealth and class issues: if we could just get that right, we would have a utopia. The only salvation we really need is salvation from the “exploiters,” which can be achieved by their overthrow, even if that means violence.
From a Biblical worldview, the heart of the problem with Marxism is this—even when humans strive for all the fairness and wealth equity in the world, human nature is still human nature—flawed. Marxism does not take into account the sin nature of humankind. From a Biblical worldview, the Marxist system will never work because human nature is imperfect (Romans 3:23). Christians call this sin and recognize that our human problem is a spiritual one and because of that, we are in need of a Savior, Jesus (Romans 10:9).
Limited Government and Our Constitutional Republic Address Flawed Human Nature Most Effectively
Human beings make up governments. Odds are, and history displays, there always will be those who make it to the higher ranks of government who are power hungry. This is likely to happen in all forms of government. The danger posed by a flawed human nature is exponentially greater in a Communist or Socialist system because the government in that system becomes so powerful over so many aspects of society. The famous verses in Proverbs that talk about the people suffering when corrupt leaders take power (Proverbs 28:12,28; Proverbs 29:2,4) become increasingly relevant when those with a Marxist worldview become powerful.
Though it may not be perfect (no form of government run by imperfect humans could ever be perfect), our Constitutional Republic provides for a Biblically limited government which contains numerous checks and balances that helps reign in human nature. In Biblical Foundations of Limited Government, Doug Bandow writes, “government should provide the legal scaffolding that allows people to try to collectively but voluntarily solve their problems.” Marxist forms of government tend to be unlimited in nature and lack needed checks and balances. When government becomes too powerful and controlling, there is incredible vulnerability to corruption. As mentioned many times in this blog, we have seen this play out throughout history with a cost of millions of lives. As Understanding the Times puts it, “Instead of achieving its stated goal of destroying class distinctions, socialism tends to remove competition and deposit cronyism in its place.” Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institute described that in the former Soviet Union, rather than distributing goods equally, they ended up creating a class known as the “nomenklatura,” whose members “own everything– the auto factories, the dachas, the food markets, the pharmacies, the transport system, the department stores. Everything.” We see this playing out in China now, as well.
The Marxist Worldview Despises the Traditional Family Structure
Marxism elevates the “community” (hence the name Communism) and despises the traditional family structure. Marxists see the modern nuclear family as “ideological apparatus” that promotes Capitalism. If the family is too strong, it threatens the community and promotes inequality. For example, if parents desire to increase the wealth of their family through hard work, Marxists view that as a threat to equal distribution of wealth, and especially despise the concept of inheritance. They also see the Biblical view of teaching children to obey their parents as brainwashing; they say it teaches children to grow up to play the role of a proletariat (worker) that obeys the upper class of “owners.” You can see this Marxism principle play out in movements like the Black Lives Matter organization that originally listed in their mission statement a goal to disrupt the Western nuclear family structure (this has since been taken down likely due to much criticism of that goal). The role of fathers is especially despised within Marxist movements, as fathers represent authority figures and are tied in with a hierarchical structure.
In contrast, the Bible lifts up the family structure as an important building block of not only the Church, but society as a whole (Ephesians 5 and 6, Psalm 127, Proverbs 31, and many others). The Bible elevates the principle of personal responsibility and working hard to take care of your family (2 Thessalonians 3:10 , Proverbs 6:10-11, 10:4 and discourages an apathetic work ethic (Proverbs 26:13-16). Proverbs 13:22, as well as many other verses, affirm the principle of leaving your children an inheritance (not only a taboo in Marxism but with Democratic Socialists as well).
Biblical Compassion and Justice
What about sharing with those in need? Isn’t that a good thing from a Christian perspective? Even current data shows Christians to be the most generous segment of the population from a monetary donation standpoint. Of course, the answer is yes, the Bible is clear that we should be helping those in need (Matthew 25). However, we must make the incredibly important distinction between “forced sharing” (Communism) and voluntary sharing, as has been practiced by Christians since the early days of the church (Acts 2). As J.P. Moreland correctly points out that the State should not be the source of charity in A Biblical Case for Limited Government, “The state’s care for the poor is coercive since it redistributes wealth by force. It takes from some and gives to others, all by the force of law.” Charity is Biblically important but it should always be done voluntarily.
What about justice? Shouldn’t Christians be fighting for justice for the oppressed as described in so may Bible references (Proverbs 11:1, 11:24-25, 13:22, 14:31, 22:22)? Absolutely. But in our country, we do it with the freedom to pursue the strategies we feel are most in line with the Christian worldview. In contrast, from a Marxist viewpoint, justice is the primary responsibility of “the party.” They get to both define justice and enforce it. Lenin and Stalin in their abundance of power, took this to the extreme in murdering many millions of people who stood in their way, such as Ukranian farmers and countless others. This was done in the name of their definition of “justice.” In our Constitutional Republic, we have the privilege to pursue Biblical justice. We have the freedom to influence government in the ways we feel called to do so as citizens and as churches. The Bible warns us that we ought to have a balanced view of money and never to idolize wealth (Proverbs 11:4, 11:28, 30:7-9, 1 Timothy 6:10). There is never a mention that governments or any other entity will achieve a perfect balance of wealth this side of heaven.
In summary, we feel it is critical to understand the history of Marxism and how it impacts our political and cultural climate today. When those around you at the dinner table flippantly propose “let’s have a national bank” or “maybe we should get a new Constitution” or “let’s nationalize healthcare,” or in more scary terms “let’s burn the place down and instigate a revolution,” it is important to understand the Marxist influences on those statements and to be educated on how to respond in a way consistent with a Biblical worldview. Although some may claim Marxism is a minor thread in the tapestry of our society, in our view, it is becoming an increasingly important part of the radical narrative that desires to destroy our Constitutional Republic.