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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous session we noted that history has proven Marx’s theory to be wrong; capitalism did not cause societies to fail and then convert to socialism. We also looked at the idea of voluntary socialism, where a group of people get together to form a socialist community, and we discovered that these also have all failed. We ended by noting that socialist countries have not done any better than voluntary communities. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to pursue this topic further today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we need a little more background about the failure of Marx’s theory in order to understand how people tried to implement socialism at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community. The background we need is to note that by the end of the 1800’s, which was about 50 years after the publication of Marx’s ideas, it was already evident even to one of his key disciples that the theory was wrong.

Marc Roby: Who was that disciple?

Dr. Spencer: Eduard Bernstein. To be accurate, he was more a disciple of Engels than Marx, but that is a distinction without a difference. In fact, to show how close he was it is useful to note that he was one of only four people, including Engels, who scattered Marx’s ashes at sea as Marx had specified in his will.[1]

In any event, Bernstein, who was German, was living in exile in England and what he observed happening in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not agree with Marx’s theory. So he began to publish a series of articles in 1896 entitled “Problems of Socialism”.[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that didn’t endear him to Engels or other followers of Marx.

Dr. Spencer: No, it didn’t. Bernstein pointed out that trade unions had made a large difference and had, along with other means, made capitalism more tolerable. Quoting from Joshua Muravchik’s outstanding book Heaven on Earth, “What Bernstein was suggesting was that it was possible to fight for the well-being of workers … without envisioning a new society.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that suggestion certainly made him an enemy of Engels and many other Marxists who believed in violent revolution as we noted in our last session.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But Bernstein was reacting intelligently to the evidence he saw in England. To quote Muravchik again, “More than fifty years had passed since Marx and Engels formulated their sociological forecast that the rich would become fewer, the poor poorer and the middle classes negligible. Bernstein observed that something nearly opposite had occurred: the rich were more numerous, as were the middle classes, and the poor were better off.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is certainly an inconvenient truth for Marxists to deal with. Facts can be really annoying when they don’t agree with your theory. And capitalism has produced great progress for the poor in this country as well, even during my lifetime.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it has. Independent of the constant protestations of the progressives that our system only works for the very wealthy, the poor in this country are way better off than they were 50 years ago, and immensely better off than they were 100 or 150 years ago. The comparison is often relative to the steadily increasing standard of living, rather than to any meaningful standard of real poverty. In fact, one study performed in 2011 and based on government surveys, shows that “As a rule of thumb, poor households [as defined by the Census Bureau] tend to obtain modern conveniences [that is, things like computers, cell phones, big-screen TV’s and so on] about a dozen years after the middle class.”[5]

Marc Roby: I suspect that most people think of poor as meaning that a person has a hard time providing food, clothing, transportation, housing and health care for their family, not big-screen TV’s.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure you’re right about that. And 150 years ago it was certainly true that poor people were concerned about the bare necessities of life, not luxuries. But the way the Census Bureau defines poverty, it ignores all government subsidies and focuses purely on income, not on living conditions. And yet, in 2014 it was reported that the average poor family spent $2.40 for every $1.00 of reported income, so the subsidies are very significant[6]. As a result, the same 2011 study I noted before found that “Some 70 percent of poor households report that during the course of the past year, they were able to meet ‘all essential expenses,’ including mortgage, rent, utility bills, and important medical care.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, 70 percent of the supposedly poor households were not truly poor in the sense most people understand that term.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fair statement. And if you read the report, even the other 30% are mostly not wanting for the basic necessities either.  Most of the “poor,” for example, live in reasonable dwellings that are in reasonable condition and the average “poor” family in America has considerably more living space than the average family in Europe – not the average poor family in Europe, the average family.[8]

Marc Roby: That’s eye opening.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But we must, of course, say that this is not universally true. No one is claiming that we don’t have people in this country living in terrible conditions. But that is not true of most of those who are called poor by the Census Bureau, which is, of course, the number always used by politicians and left-leaning news sources pushing when they are pushing for more social programs. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of people in our country who are poor has fluctuated between about 12% and 15% of the population since around 1970. But the number of people struggling to put food on the table is a small fraction of those, over 92% of those listed as poor said that they never had trouble getting enough food in the past year.[9] That means that just over 1% of the population, which is still too many, had at least occasional trouble putting enough food on the table. But the bottom line is that capitalism has been extremely successful in raising the standard of living for almost all Americans.

Marc Roby: And for many other people as well we might add.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true, but now I want to get back to Marx and in light of the fact that capitalism has been immensely successful in helping the poor, as noted by Bernstein and the data we just quickly reviewed, I want to look at what has happened when Marx’s ideas were implemented at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community.

The truth is that, because, as Bernstein noted, the problems with capitalism can be fixed without a complete change in society, the only way socialism can be implemented on a grand scale is either by agreement, or by revolution.

Marc Roby: And, of course, socialism, or at least partial socialism if I can use that phrase, has been tried voluntarily at the country level. For example, in England after world war two.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the English experiment is very important. It wasn’t full-blown socialism, but they did nationalize a number of industries and services and it was, by all accounts, a massive failure. The system was in place from 1945, when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister, until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Thatcher said that “No theory of government was ever given a fairer test or a more prolonged experiment in a democratic country than democratic socialism received in Britain. Far from reversing the … decline of Britain … it accelerated it.”[10]

I don’t think it is worth our while to discuss the British experiment further, Muravchik discusses it in his book for those who are interested. The important thing is that it failed badly enough that the country voluntarily went back to capitalism.

Marc Roby: Alright, but there are other examples of democratic socialism that are frequently cited, most commonly Sweden.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Sweden is often cited, but there are two problems with that example. First, Sweden is not really socialist, their economy is market-based capitalism. And, I might add, has a much lower corporate tax rate, 20.6%, than we had in the United States prior to 2017 when President Trump lowered the rate from 35% to 21%.[11]

Sweden is a welfare state. They have huge taxes on everyone, including the middle class and lower income, and then they offer a wide range of generous government-funded social programs. But their taxes on middle- and lower-income people are much higher than here in the US. For example, there is a value-added tax of 25% on most products in Sweden, that’s like having a 25% national sales tax! In order to compare taxes, we must remember that gross-domestic-product, or GDP, is a measure of a countries total production. The overall tax-to-GDP ratio in Sweden is 43.9%, compared to 24.3% in the United States.[12] And the other Scandinavian countries are all similar.

Marc Roby: That’s a lot of tax. You noted two problems with using Sweden as an example, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: That they are demographically very different than the United States. There is a much greater degree of homogeneity in Sweden and in the other Scandinavian countries than we have.  Gert Tinggaard, a professor of political science at Denmark’s Aarhus University explained that “The Nordic welfare state works due to trust. You have to trust that people work and pay taxes when they are able to do so. The second condition is that you also have to trust the politicians. You get a bang for your buck.”[13] Now I don’t think that kind of trust exists in this country, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. And even Sweden is having a lot of trouble with it now since they have more immigrants than before.

Therefore, this kind of welfare state simply won’t work here. Not to mention the fact that the politicians in this country who promote the Scandinavian model ignore the incredible price tag. They pretend it can be paid by just taxing the rich, which is, first, simply not possible and, secondly, I would argue, not moral either. But we’ll get to that in a later podcast.

Marc Roby: Well, I certainly agree that the trust this professor spoke of does not exist in this country. There is too much diversity and, at this point in time, too much animosity.

Dr. Spencer: And that animosity, as we will also see in a later podcast, is made dramatically worse by neo-Marxist ideologies. But let’s get back to socialist countries. For true socialism, in other words, not including the welfare state, or partial solutions like England tried, the only way to achieve it is by violent revolution.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because there will always to be a sizable number of people who are not willing to voluntarily give up all of their property to the government. And to have true socialism, the government must own everything.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t imagine that happening here in the United States without a massive use of force.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I. I don’t think it can happen anywhere peacefully. That is why it has been brought about by force in the countries that have tried some form of full-blown socialism. Muravchik goes through a number of examples in his book. For today, I just want to discuss the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, or often just called the Soviet Union. It was the first truly Socialist country.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, no longer exists.

Dr. Spencer: And the reason it doesn’t is that socialism was a massive failure. The history is long and sordid and we aren’t going to go through it in any detail, that would take way too long. But let’s take a quick look at it and let’s begin by looking at a man named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. He was born to a reasonably well-to-do Russian family in 1870. When he was 17, his beloved older brother, Alexander, was hanged for his involvement in a plot to kill the tsar.

Alexander had been strongly influenced by a novel called What is to be Done? And after his death, Lenin also read the novel and said that it “completely transformed my outlook.”[14]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a strong statement. What was this novel about?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the author of the novel had been influenced by Owen, whose utopian experiment we discussed in our session last week, and the novel presented a utopian vision. Let me quote from Muravchik, he says that “The heroes of What Is to Be Done? Were a class of ‘New Men.’ This was an unmistakable euphemism for ‘revolutionaries,’ coined, as were many code words of the time, to dodge the censor. The New Men are ‘courageous, unwavering, unyielding’ and utterly devoted to the ‘common cause.’ Their destiny is to rescue society.”[15]

Marc Roby: You can see how such a grand idea – to rescue society – might capture the imagination of a young man, especially one whose older brother had been hanged for attempting to murder the leader of the government.

Dr. Spencer: It is understandable to a degree, but I don’t want to get into speculating about motives. Let’s just say that many of the things Lenin went on to do are completely indefensible in terms of any reasonable code of moral conduct. His revolution was far different from the American revolution.  But let me get back to the story.

Marc Roby: OK. Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Lenin got involved in some insurrectionist activities and was jailed and then exiled to southern Siberia. The conditions of his exile were not harsh however, he was even allowed to live with his girlfriend, although the authorities made them get married, which they were opposed to, but they agreed so they could be together.

During his exile, Lenin became aware of the work of Bernstein and the effect it was having on some Russian socialists who were turning away from the idea of revolution and were thinking that the workers could peacefully push for better wages and conditions.[16]

Marc Roby: There goes that fickle proletariat again. As we saw with Marx last time, they simply don’t always appreciate what these revolutionaries want to do for them.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Lenin said that “not a single Marxist has understood Marx!”[17] He was speaking about Marx’s single-minded devotion to revolution. Muravchik wrote, “For neither Lenin nor Marx was the revolution the answer to the question: what can be done for the proletariat? Rather the proletariat was the answer to the question: what can be done for the revolution?”[18]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting observation. And it certainly tempts one to speculate about the motives of these men, and others like them.

Dr. Spencer: But we will resist that temptation and move on. This idea that the proletariat is prone to be satisfied with reforms that make their lives comfortable is a consistent theme. Lenin wrote, “The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.”[19] Which he clearly meant in a derogatory way. Lenin went on to say, thinking of Marx and Engels, that “The theory of socialism … grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.”[20]

Marc Roby: OK, Lenin obviously held the proletariat in utter contempt. It is hypocritical for someone who claimed to want a classless society to so obviously think that a higher class of people are needed to tell the working class what they need.

Dr. Spencer: It is hypocritical, and it is also common among Marxists. They often think they are superior to the people they claim to want to help. And they are almost never working-class people themselves.

Marc Roby: Yes, an interesting observation, but one that I have found to be true in my reading as well.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s because it is almost universally true. Marx, for example, never supported himself or his family. He mooched off of his parents and, when they stopped providing for him, he was supported by friends, mostly Engels. But, getting back to Lenin, who also never worked for a living in a normal sense, the revolution he masterminded in Russia is notable for its absolute brutality and criminality.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Starting around 1906 Lenin’s organization used armed robbery, sometimes including murder, to fund their operations. Stalin was good at this type of criminal activity, which is how he first came to Lenin’s attention.[21]

The second example I would give is how Lenin seized power in the first place. World War I broke out in 1914 and Lenin welcomed it because he thought, correctly as it turns out, that it would help his cause. Then during the war, in 1917, there was a revolution in Russia, which led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. This led to the creation of a provisional government, which then subsequently fell to the Bolsheviks, which was Lenin’s party, in the October revolution in 1917. There was then a period of civil war prior to the formation of the USSR in 1922.

Marc Roby: It is certainly a very messy period in Russian history.

Dr. Spencer: Messy in more ways than one. Lenin was absolutely ruthless. He killed virtually anyone who stood in his way. He self-consciously modeled his efforts after the reign of terror in the French Revolution.[22] He used force of arms to overrule election results[23] and he violently oppressed even the peasants he claimed to want to help. The ones who were at all successful and who didn’t want to voluntarily give up all of their possessions he called kulaks. They were treated mercilessly as enemies of the state both under Lenin and, later, under Stalin. They were murdered and their property taken.

Muravchick notes that “Russia’s autocracy had long been notorious in Europe for its cruelty, but no tsar had ever shed blood so freely. Then again, no tsar ever had such lofty aims. ‘How could they … act otherwise,’ asked former Yugoslav Communist leader Milovan Djilas of the Bolsheviks, ‘when they ha[d] been named by … history to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in this sinful world?’”[24]

Marc Roby: That’s incredible. In other words, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, actually believed that the end justified the means.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And notice the end, this is nothing less than their view of heaven on earth. This was Marx’s vision as well, although he didn’t use that language. Remember from Session 163 that he thought the final state of society was communism, where each person would contribute according to his ability and consume only according to his needs.

Marc Roby: If we’re not careful in our thinking, we could imagine that this is what the Bible teaches.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but the problem is that a true state of bliss requires a change in human nature. It requires the eradication of sin. And only God can do that. In Isaiah 45:22 God tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” [25] The failure of socialism is, fundamentally, that it is trying to play God. It is using the state to try and create, by force, a situation that men have decided is best. I’d rather wait for heaven.

Marc Roby: And so would I. And I very much look forward to continuing this discussion, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] J. Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 95

[2] Ibid, pg. 102

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 106

[5] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?, Backgrounder 2575, The Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2011, see footnote 8 for a list of the surveys (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2011/pdf/bg2575.pdf)

[6] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, The War on Poverty after 50 Years, Backgrounder 2955, The Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2014, (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2014/pdf/BG2955.pdf)

[7] Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox, op. cit.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 317

[11] For Sweden see https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2018/06/european-tax-sweden-country-profile.html, for the US see https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-does-corporate-income-tax-work

[12] See https://taxfoundation.org/bernie-sanders-scandinavian-countries-taxes/

[13] Alister Doyle and Simon Johnson, Not in my backyard? Mainstream Scandinavia warily eyes record immigration, Reuters, February 15, 2016, available at https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-nordics-insight/not-in-my-backyard-mainstream-scandinavia-warily-eyes-record-immigration-idUKKCN0VP0IX

[14] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 112

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid, pg. 108

[17] Ibid, pg. 115

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid, pg. 117

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid, pg. 129

[22] Ibid, pg. 139

[23] Ibid, pg. 137

[24] Ibid, pg. 136

[25] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are continuing our short break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous two sessions we argued that the Bible provides a Christian with his purpose, place and priorities for living and must be our standard even in the public sphere. We also argued that Christians are obligated to participate in government, at least by voting, in order to function as salt and light in the world. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to continue that discussion today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I want to discuss Karl Marx and Marxist ideology.

Marc Roby: Well, that might strike many of our listeners as a strange place to begin. Why deal with Marx and his ideology first?

Dr. Spencer: Because Marxist ideology underlies much of what is going on today. The Black Lives Matter organization, for example, is Marxist. In a youtube video[1] Patrice Khan-Cullors said that she and Alicia Garza, who are listed on the Black Lives Matter website[2] as two of the three co-founders, are both trained Marxists. In addition, there are many other manifestations in modern culture of what is, essentially, Marxist ideology.

Marc Roby: Well, certainly the modern resurgence of socialism in this country is an outgrowth of Marxist ideology. But that begs the question, how do you define Marxist ideology?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I would summarize Marx’s ideology as one of conflict. He was a philosopher, a historian of sorts and an economist who primarily studied the history of economics and he considered his most important work to be Das Kapital, which is German for capital, meaning in this case financial assets. He was only able to finish the first volume of this work during his life and then his friend, Friedrich Engels, finished the second and third volumes from his notes after his death. In fact, Engels contributed many of the ideas that we refer to as Marxist, so much of Marx’s work was really a collaboration. According to Elliot Green, out of all the books published in the social sciences before 1950, Das Kapital is the most cited.[3] He found that it was cited over 40,000 times, and that only included English translations.

Marc Roby: That’s an impressive number. But why do you say Marx’s ideology is one of conflict?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me quote from the opening line of the first major section of the Communist Manifesto, which Marx co-wrote with Engels, and which summarizes his view of the history of mankind viewed from the point of view of economics. They wrote that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”[4]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a depressing view of history. Almost every relationship is seen as one of oppression and conflict.

Dr. Spencer: It is a very depressing view. Now, of course, we have to admit that there is some truth to it. Conflict has been a part of human history since the fall. There is conflict in individual personal relationships, in business relationships, between countries and so on. Governments have certainly oppressed people, employers have oppressed employees, slavery has been a common occurrence throughout human history and so on.

Marc Roby: All of which serves to prove that we are all sinners, as the Bible says. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.[5]

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. In any event, Marx is without any doubt one of the most influential people of the past two hundred years.

He was born in 1818 in Trier, which is in the Rhineland of west central Germany, very near modern Luxembourg, which was part of Prussia at the time of Marx’s birth. His father was a lawyer and sent him to the University of Bonn to study law, but he got into trouble there and switched to the University of Berlin. Once there, he got interested in philosophy and joined a group called the “young Hegelians”.

Marc Roby: I assume the name of the group comes from the philosopher Georg Hegel?

Dr. Spencer: Your assumption is correct. Hegel was an objective idealist, which, according to John Frame, means that “the whole universe is characterized by thought.”[6] Hegel developed what is called dialectical reasoning.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should note that in a philosophical sense, a dialectic refers to reasoning by way of a dialogue, as made famous by Plato.

Dr. Spencer: And again you’re right. And to be more specific about Hegel’s method, he believed that we arrive at truth through a process of trial and error. We begin any discussion, or thought process, with a proposition. That is our thesis. There is then an antithesis, which is something that seems to come from the thesis, but is contrary to it; in other words it is a negation of the thesis, which is why it is called the antithesis. Then, by backing up, if you will, and looking at the thesis and antithesis together, we arrive at a synthesis, which is a new proposition that corrects the errors in the thesis and antithesis. This synthesis now becomes our thesis and the process continues.

Marc Roby: That is very abstract. Can you give a concrete example?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, although the example is still pretty abstract. Think about being. Just the bare concept of being. What does it mean? It is undefined. But we could simply say that something is present. That is our thesis. But thinking about that automatically causes us to ask, what is nonbeing? In other words, what is nothing? And we again see that the concept is undefined, but it means that something is absent. That is our antithesis. There initially seems to be no way to reconcile being and non-being, or nothing. But then comes the synthesis. We realize that nothing can become something, or that something can become nothing and we arrive at the concept of becoming as the synthesis.[7]

Marc Roby: I’m not at all sure that that is helpful.

Dr. Spencer: I understand completely, and I don’t want to spend more time on it. The important thing is that this dialectical method involves looking at something and seeing that it has within itself the seeds of its own change. It is all about constant change. You go from thesis and antithesis to synthesis, which then becomes your thesis and you keep going.

Hegel viewed this as applying to history and, in fact, all of reality, since thoughts are reality in his view. So, to quote John Frame, “just as human thought progresses through negation and synthesis, so human history progresses through conflict and resolution. One tribe fights another, leading to a nation. Nations fight and create empires. One empire fights another, leading to a greater civilization.”[8]

Marc Roby: Yes, I see the origin of the conflict idea.

Dr. Spencer: Which is all that is important for now. There is a key difference however between Hegel and Marx.

Marc Roby: What’s that?

Dr. Spencer: Hegel was an idealist and Marx was a materialist. So, Marx’s theory is sometimes called dialectical materialism, although he preferred the term historical materialism. As we saw with the brief quote from the Communist Manifesto, Marx viewed economics in terms of conflict. There is always an oppressor and an oppressed. In Das Kapital, he was analyzing capitalist systems, which he thought were certain to die out.

Marx wrote at the time of the industrial revolution and he broke people up into two classes. The proletariat and the bourgeoisie. He defined the proletariat as the workers who sell their labor and the bourgeoisie as “modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production, and employers of wage labour”[9].

Let me quote the best short explanation of his ideas that I have found.

Marc Roby: Yes, Please do.

Dr. Spencer: In his History of Economic Theory, Harry Landreth wrote that “Capitalism … contains the seeds of its own destruction, as the inevitable conflicts develop with changes in the forces of production. With the fall of capitalism a new set of relations of production will emerge, which Marx calls socialism, and socialism, in turn, finally gives way to communism.”[10] Landreth went on to explain that in Marx’s system, socialism means that the means of production are owned by the state. And in the Communist Manifesto, Marx said the state is, “the proletariat organized as the ruling class.”[11] In fact, Marx wrote in the Manifesto that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class, to establish democracy.”[12]

Marc Roby: Well, independent of the fact that some people today speak about democratic socialism, most people don’t associate socialism with democracy.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and for good reason as we will see later. But socialism in its pure form is an economic system. Marx envisioned a democracy where the government owns all of the means of production.

But there is still in this view of socialism a vestige of capitalism, because, as Landreth writes, “economic activity is still basically organized through the use of incentive systems: rewards must still be given in order to induce men to labor.”[13]

Marc Roby: So the key idea of socialism, according to Marx, is that the means of production are owned collectively, rather than being in the hands of some sort of upper class.

Dr. Spencer: That’s the key, yes. And then the system is assumed to continue to progress and, in communism, as viewed by Marx, things are very different. Landreth writes, “Men are no longer motivated to work by monetary or material incentives, and the social classes which existed under capitalism, and to a lesser extent under socialism, have disappeared. Communism is a classless society in which the state has withered away. Under socialism each person contributes to the economic process according to his ability and receives an income according to his contribution; under communism each contributes according to his ability but consumes according to his needs.”

Marc Roby: That’s amazing. Marx honestly believed that men’s motivations will completely change, and that social classes will disappear and the state will wither away?

Dr. Spencer: Apparently, he did. It is one of the things I find intriguing about Marx’s views. It arises from his rejection of the biblical notions of sin and the authority of God to define our place. He despised religion.

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement, can you back it up?

Dr. Spencer: Easily. Marx wrote that religion “is the opium of the people.”[14] By which he meant it was a tool of the oppressors used to keep the oppressed under control. He also wrote that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.”[15] In other words, religion provides only an illusion of happiness according to Marx, and must be abolished in order to open the door for real happiness.

Marc Roby: Which, on his view, would come with communism.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. So, you see, his view of humanity was not informed by the Bible, but he nevertheless understood that human beings are sinful, although we would never have used that word. Or, at least, he understood that human beings in power, the bourgeoisie, are sinful, since he spoke about there always being oppression of the workers, the proletariat. But he then envisioned all of this changing when the economic and governmental structures changed as a result of the proletariat coming to power. So, somehow, he thought that sin was going to magically disappear.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible.

Dr. Spencer: It’s even more incredible than just thinking oppression would go away. In the communist manifesto we read, “In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”[16]

Marc Roby: So, he envisioned heaven here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what he envisioned. His philosophy was completely materialist and, as such, is fundamentally opposed to God and to Christianity. In her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey analyzes different worldviews in terms of how they answer three questions: First, what is the ultimate origin of everything in this universe? Second, what is wrong with the world, in other words, why is their all this conflict and trouble? And third, how do we fix things.[17] These three questions can be summarized using Christian terminology as dealing with the creation, fall and redemption.

Marc Roby: I think that is a reasonable rubric for evaluating different worldviews. So, what does Pearcey say about Marx’s worldview?

Dr. Spencer: Well, she says that Marx’s view of creation is that this universe is self-creating matter.[18] I would possibly disagree with the “self-creating” part of that statement, I don’t know if Marx ever wrote about the origin of our universe one way or the other, but most materialists simply assume that the material universe has been around forever, or is a part of some multiverse that has been around forever. We’ve dealt with that idea before and it isn’t important for our current discussion anyway, so let’s move on to the other two aspects of a worldview.

Marc Roby: Alright, what does Pearcey say then is Marx’s view of the fall?

Dr. Spencer: Well, obviously, having an atheistic worldview, he doesn’t speak in terms of a fall. But Pearcey says that he views man’s problem as the creation of private property. I think that is correct as far as it goes, but there is a little more to it. Private property wouldn’t be a problem if there were no greed or envy or selfishness in this world, in other words, if there were no sin.

Marx really misses the whole point here because of his materialist, anti-God worldview. He speaks about oppression and clearly thinks it is wrong, but then never addresses that moral problem. As Pearcey writes, “Marxism assumes that human nature can be transformed simply by changing external social structures.”[19]

Marc Roby: And so Marx’s view of redemption must also neglect any discussion of how human nature is transformed. From what you have said, it is obvious that Marx thinks there is some natural evolution in social structures that can lead to a communist utopia.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. He wrote a famous slogan, which was meant to describe the final state of mature communism. He wrote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”[20]

Marc Roby: I’ve heard that slogan a number of times.

Dr. Spencer: Well we all have. Marx envisioned a society where everyone willingly used all of his or her abilities to their fullest without expecting any greater return than anyone else. He spoke of those who had greater ability as having a “natural privilege”[21], in other words, if you are smarter and more talented than I am, that is just a privilege that you have been given and you should be content for me to receive just as much material wealth as you receive, even though you produce twice as much as I do.

Marc Roby: That again sounds like a heaven on earth idea.

Dr. Spencer: And he went even further. As we saw earlier from the Communist Manifesto, he believed that all hostilities between nations would vanish.

Marc Roby: Wow. An end to all conflict. And all because the proletariat now owns the means of production and controls the distribution of wealth. I can think of a number of modern politicians who have drunk deeply from that well of nonsense.

Dr. Spencer: So can I. The problem with Marx is his materialism. His diagnosis of man’s problem was wrong because he didn’t take sin into account. He tried to find the problem in some external circumstance rather than in man himself. And when you get the diagnosis wrong, you are bound to get the cure wrong. The paradoxical and incomprehensible thing to me is that, as I said before, he somehow thought that changing the structure of society was going to make it perfectly equitable.

But why should we assume that having the government own everything is going to solve the human problems of selfishness, greed, envy and so on? There is no logical connection whatsoever, it is just so much wishful thinking. The only solution to the sin problem is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: ;Yes, I see your point. And I look forward to continuing this discussion in our next session, but we are out of time for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1noLh25FbKI

[2] https://blacklivesmatter.com/our-co-founders/

[3] https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/05/12/what-are-the-most-cited-publications-in-the-social-sciences-according-to-google-scholar/

[4] Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, Vol. 50, pg. 419

[5] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[6] J. Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 756

[7] E.g., see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/), or Frame, op. cit., pp 273-274

[8] Frame, op. cit. pg. 275

[9] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 419, see fn 1

[10] Harry Landreth, History of Economic Theory, Scope, Method, and Content, Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1976, pg. 161

[11] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 428

[12] Ibid

[13] Landreth, op. cit., pp 161-162

[14] K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

[15] Ibid, note that in the same piece he wrote that “In the struggle against that state of affairs, criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. It is not a lancet, it is a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it wants not to refute but to exterminate.” He had started the piece off by saying, in part, that “the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism”. Putting the two together, it is clear that he wanted to exterminate religion.

[16] Great Books, op. cit., pg. 428

[17] N. Pearcey, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004, pg. 134

[18] Ibid, pg. 136

[19] Ibid

[20] K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Critque_of_the_Gotha_Programme.pdf

[21] Ibid

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