October 25, 2017 marks 100 years since the Revolution that realized Karl Marx’s dream of a communist state.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017 marks 100 years since the Revolution that realized Karl Marx’s dream of a communist state when the Bolsheviks and their leftist allies staged an insurrection in Petrograd (modern day St. Petersburg). Ironically, according to Marx’s writings, Russia should not have been a prime candidate for the sustainability of a communist state. It lacked the industrial infrastructure that was supposed to lead to the “alienation of labor,” which was needed to bring about the socialist revolution that precedes the communist utopia.
But why am I writing about Karl Marx, Soviet Russia and socialism? Because I used to advocate for those very things.
If you met me today, you might find it hard to believe that I was once a big fan of Karl Marx. I am a Christian, a conservative libertarian, a fan of free market Austrian economics and a fierce opponent to the socialist and progressive agendas; but until about 6 years ago I was an avid democratic socialist, and nearly a full-fledged communist. What is a democratic socialist? Why was I drawn to that ideology? What changed? Allow me to share my story.
What is Democratic Socialism and Why was it so Appealing?
According to the Democratic Socialists of America website, “Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few.” It is not just a political ideology, it’s also a moral one. The average democratic socialist is someone who genuinely cares about people. They want to help the poor. They want people to be able to live and work in a way that is fulfilling, but the feel that the capitalist system in America forces most people to sacrifice that fulfillment just to survive. They feel that because of the way our capitalist system is set up there are injustices that need to be corrected and the best way to accomplish that is through socialist programs, and ultimately a completely socialist society where every person is cared for and nobody goes without. Above all, a democratic socialist sees inequality in society and wants to make sure things are fair for all.
How it All Began
I was not formally introduced to the idea of democratic socialism until I went to college at age 19, one year after becoming a Christian, though in hindsight I can see that the seeds were planted years earlier. Before then, I was never really concerned with politics or social issues, but I had friends who were and as a young Christian I wanted to be like Jesus who cared for the poor and the oppressed. I remember reading the Gospels and seeing Jesus loving people and helping them, and later learning of the Old Testament provisions for the poor, the orphans and the widows; couple that with wickedness seen in the world around us and you can probably see what attracted me to that ideology.
Yet while I would consider myself a democratic socialist and I thought Karl Marx was on the right track, I soon had to face the reality that I had never really read any of his writings, save a few excerpts from the Communist Manifesto.
The Roadmap to Socialism
The year was 2008 and I had been on the road to socialism for nearly four years. I was an idealistic 22-year-old newlywed with a son on the way, and I felt like I could change the world. I wanted to see a world that was better than it was, and I wanted my son to grow up in a world where God was honored and everyone was given a fair shake. It was for that reason that I enrolled in a class on Marxist philosophy because, after all, if I was going to call myself a socialist or a communist I needed to really understand what that meant.
I went into the class excited to learn and eagerly picked up my copies of Capital, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Lenin’s State and Revolution, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and others. It was a lot to take in, but over time I felt like I was really starting to grasp the philosophy behind Marxism.
Pulling from the Hegelian dialectic concept of the cunning of reason, which is the idea that all things in history are working through the geist (or spirit) to progress humanity toward a more perfect society, Marx set the course that we were heading to. According to Hegel (who was Marx’s teacher), the pinnacle of human culture to that point was 19th century German society. Marx, however, saw it differently.
The industrialization of Germany, France, England and much of the rest of Europe and the United States were a stepping stone to the ultimate progression of human society. Once the industry of capitalism was established and able to support the state, the workers would lose their sense of purpose in their work which led to alienation. This alienation breaks the spirit of the worker and leads to their separation from what Marx called gattungswesen, or species-essence. In other words, they lost themselves in the monotony of their labor to collect a wage turning the worker, essentially, into little more than an indentured servant or a prostitute.
Marx believed that this alienation would lead to an uprising where classes would be overturned, the bourgeoisie (upper-middle class) would be taken down and a socialist order would usher in the dictatorship of the proletariat. During this time, the government which is now controlled by the lower classes would transfer the wealth, supplies and surplus of private enterprise to collective ownership, a la socialism which in turn would eventually pass away into communism.
The Turning Point
As time went on and I read more I became increasingly troubled by the founding fathers of the socio-political ideology that I had ascribed to.
I struggled to reconcile with the inherent atheism and antisemitism of Marx’s philosophy (for reference see Marx’s essays Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and On the Jewish Question). As a Christian, I was obviously at odds the atheism that was expected of a Marxist, and I loved Israel and the Jewish people. But there were more issues I found with what I had been ascribing to:
- In Romans 12:17-21 Paul reminds us that we are not to take revenge, but to trust in the divine justice that God brings. In contrast, Marxist philosophy (especially the Leninist strain) was far more militant. The entire concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat is predicated on the idea of revenge.
- Throughout the Scriptures in places like Exodus 20:15-17 and Deuteronomy 5:19-21 we are told repeatedly not to covet or steal the possessions of others, and yet a foundation of Marxist philosophy and socialist regimes is to steal from everyone to make everything “fair,” calling it wealth redistribution.
- As I have mentioned several times in this article, I wanted to help people because we have a God given responsibility to help them. However, my desire to see a socialist state established was misguided. You and I as believers have a responsibility to help others, to feed the hungry, to comfort the mourning, etc. but nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt establish a government whom shall care for all people to take away the responsibility I have placed on each and every one of you.”
Moving beyond the writings of Marx and the revolutionary approach of Lenin, the neo-Marxist approaches of Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse were also troubling. For example, rather than converting people to the ideals of socialism as they stand, the last fifty years have been spent converting the foundational institutions of the nation. Gramsci referred to a cultural hegemony in which the ruling class of a country controlled the culture of that society. This Gramscian subversion of the intellectual state apparatus (or ISA for short) which included religious institutions, the education system, the legal system, the political system, trade unions, telecommunications, culture and family life can perhaps be better recognized as its 1960’s name: the counter culture.
As a Christian, many of the things I was seeing play out in American society and within the American Church at large that I disagreed with were the direct result of Marxist efforts. I realized, at that point, that I had to make a choice. Continue down the path of democratic socialism in hopes that it would turn out differently than every other time in its two-hundred-some-year history, or repent from my misunderstanding of what God had clearly laid out in the Scriptures and allow Him to guide my views moving forward.
By His grace, I was able to make the biblical choice. Thanks be to God.
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