Saturday, 24 October 2015

Lessons from the Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, edited by Friedrich Engels, was published in English in 1888. The original document appeared in 1848 and went through a number of editions and translations. It inspired the Russian Revolution and attacked the rampant free-trade world economy which had already emerged, while the ruling class which grew wealthy through it was labelled the bourgeoisie.

Marx, a Jewish intellectual, was writing at a time of rapid de-Christianization of Germany by German Idealism, the Hegelian Dialectic and Friedrich Nietzsche, a nihilistic philosopher who was hostile to the very values emanating from Jesus Christ. The forces at work in the 19th century set the scene for both Nazi and Communistic totalitarianism.


To quote, Marx considered that

 the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles...freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word the oppressor and the oppressed.

 Each time the fight ended either in a re-constitution of society or in the common ruin of the warring classes. During the late nineteenth century, largely as a result of industrialization and global free trade, the opposing sections of society were the bourgeoisie (the oppressor) and the proletariat (the oppressed), and he maintained that the time was ripe for a new struggle that would lead to a new social order: communism. The proletariat would be victorious, religion would be exterminated and all would live in peace and harmony, a brotherhood of man.


 The Manifesto’s attack on the bourgeoisie reads like that of many a modern columnist on the global capitalist system of today, which again is based largely on free international trade, with little regard for the social costs of production moving according to market forces, be these of labour or goods or raw materials, and in which everything in life is reduced to a commodity or assigned a monetary value. Even debt itself has been made a commodity in the form of collateralised debt obligations and futures.


Christianity is attacked by Marx because it has allegedly colluded with the ruling classes in subjugating and exploiting the lower classes for monetary gain, while at the same time he implicitly recognises the reality of the sacred and holy – e.g. in talking about money and the way everything in life has been given a price he says 

...all that is solid melts away, all that is holy is profaned


Yet the means he proposes for providing what he must have been regarded as a more humanistically just way of organizing our affairs makes no appeal to the holy. Everything happens in a material world with no spiritual dimension and God either does not exist or is irrelevant, being replaced by man. Morality itself becomes meaningless other than as a set of man-made rules. It is impossible to declare anything morally wrong by any absolute standard if there is no holy source of morality.  Yet he obviously believed in the notion  of holiness without wondering where it came from or how it was to be sustained when its source was ignored. Without God anything is permissible (Dostoevsky). Those who killed 100+ millions of people in the name of  Mao Zedong, Marx and Lenin did not break the laws they laid down on humanistic principles for the benefit and flourishing of human beings. It was all done for the good of humanity. Similarly with cruel and lethal medical experiments on pregnant mothers and disabled inmates of Nazi concentration camps. It was all done in the name of human flourishing.

In attempting to sweep away all the church institutions, which undoubtedly did sometimes depart radically from the teachings of Jesus Christ, Marx ignores the provenance of Christian values, i.e. what happened during the life of Jesus and within a decade or so of His Crucifixion: the parables and commands of Jesus Christ recorded by His contemporaries, the empty tomb, the widely reported Resurrection appearances, the vision of Saul, the first conversions of gentiles, the Pentecost, the miracles of the apostles and the persecution by the authorities. The Romanized institutionalized  church and its ramifications, which Marx despised,  did not begin until almost three centuries later.


 Marx seems to be correct in seeing that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency while simultaneously sowing the seeds of its own downfall. This probably applies to any system of organizing human affairs, since nothing in life is static: circumstances change. Even the societies which claimed to be working towards the communist ideal collapsed from within. But he failed to realize that although a society may wish to redistribute bread more fairly, it cannot live by bread alone. Reality is not a machine.  Well over 100 million died in the last century(more than in all previous history) because of this mistake, this departure from basic divine wisdom, as human beings were systematically killed in the name of atheist values or human gods. What Marx and his disciples failed to realise is that no human being or group of humans  can decide what is good by reason alone apart from God: there must be humility, love and truth, and these do not come from genetically expressed protein molecules but from submission to our Creator, the same ultimate source as the molecules themselves come from.  See also 1984 revisited: collective postmodernism


 Today, like Marx, we decry the folly and greed of bankers and borrowers. To the extent that a new system is needed perhaps it should lie somewhere between the unfettered market-based one of today and a modified socialism, more internationalised in some respects, more localised in others. Or maybe something we cannot even envisage. Whatever system emerges let’s not forget the lesson of history: every man, woman and child should treat each other in accord with this command from our Saviour: ‘...love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love each other.’ John 13:34. A command that must be held sacred in all the institutions of humankind as well as individuals. 


 John

author
2077: Knights of Peace
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See also 2077:the writings of Father James
which includes a reflection on the last words of V.I.Lenin and the nature of freedom.