Should Christians Celebrate the Birthday of Karl Marx?

Last week marked the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, born on the 5th of May 1818. It was an event marked in a positive way by amongst others, the Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times (whose headline read ‘Happy Birthday Karl Marx, you were right’), and the Guardian columnist Owen Jones who tweeted; ‘Happy 200th birthday Karl Marx’.

37776981_303The Chinese sponsored a new statue of Marx that was unveiled in his birthplace, Trier, Germany on Saturday. Jean Claude Juncker speaking at the unveiling of the statue, sought to justify Marx by saying he had been misunderstood by his disciples.

President Xi Jinping spoke of Marx as the greatest intellectual thinker and the hero of the working classes and the poor.

Meanwhile the shadow chancellor in the UK, John McDonnell, gave a lecture on ‘Marxism as a force for change today’.

So should Christians be celebrating the birthday of Karl Marx and giving thanks for his insights and genius? After all if the New York Times, the EU, the Chinese and politicians from liberal democracies can all unite in praise of Marx, perhaps there is something for Christians to give thanks for as well? Maybe there should be a commemorative service at Westminster Abbey or the Vatican?

Karl Marx
International Institute of Social History, AmsterdamKarl Marx described religion as the “opium of the people”.

There was a time when I, like many young people bought into the myth of Marx. I read biographies about him and even read The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. I believed that he was on the side of the poor, against the excesses of corporate capitalism and that he espoused a powerful ideology that changed the world for the good and helped overcome a fascist ideology that caused so much harm. Even when I became a Christian I held on to the view for a while that communism rather than capitalism was more compatible with Christianity. Then I grew up. It was the study of history and the brute bare facts of what happens when Marxist ideology is put into practice that led me to see that Marx was instead a prophet – but not one from God. Rather he was the atheist prophet whose doctrines have led to more deaths than any other ideology in the world.

Of course he got some things right. As did Stalin and Hitler.   But we don’t celebrate the birth of Hitler because he got motorways right!   Marx’s analysis that unfettered capitalism brought about great injustice remains true. His view that society needed to be changed and social structures reformed is still apposite today. The trouble with Marx is what he got wrong – so wrong that it made his proposed solutions even worse than the problems he was trying to address.

His atheistic materialism meant that he could see no solution outside humanity. His misunderstanding of human nature ensured that when his ideology was tried voluntarily and failed, it would be imposed by an authoritarian police state. Rather than President Juncker’s somewhat pathetic attempt to justify Marx as a teacher whose disciples got him wrong, Marx actually foresaw this and taught that his ideology should be imposed by violence and bloodshed. The revolution would be bloody but the pain would be worth it, as Nirvana was achieved through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Revolutionary terror was not a side result of Marxism but a primary component of the ideology. A component that has been taken up with great gusto by every Marxist state in the world – from Stalin’s Russia to Mao’s China and all the regimes in between (Albania, Cuba, North Korea, Eastern Europe, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Venezuela). The result has always, without exception been catastrophic. Over 100 million people have died as the result of Marxist teaching. 100 million!

So why are Western liberals and Chinese Capitalists celebrating and commemorating Marx’s birthday? ‘He was an important figure’, they say. Indeed he was – but so was Adolf Hitler. Will they be putting up a statue in Brannau am Inn on April 20, 2019 to celebrate his 140th birthday? Will there be commemorative speeches from the President of the EU on that occasion? Can you imagine the uproar if a right wing politician gave a speech on ‘Fascism as a force for change today”?!

So why the difference in approach?

Firstly it is because as the French philosopher Alain Badiou observed, ‘Marx has become the philosopher of the middle class’. The Marxist view of history and progress is the predominant view in many Universities and therefore permeates much of middle class society. Furthermore the Middle classes are now able to adopt cultural Marxism – where they don’t really need to bother about the economics (because Marxist economics has failed everywhere and capitalism is more dominant than ever), but can kid themselves they are being really revolutionary by supporting social changes and attacks on ‘bourgeois morality’. They don’t seem to see the irony that it is the bourgeoisie who are imposing their new morality upon the whole society (often at the vast expense of the working class).

Then there is the issue of hypocrisy. Like that of the Chinese government – who laud Marx by donating statues, whilst at the same time presiding over a state capitalist system which creates hundreds of billionaires, a growing gap between rich and poor, whilst being anti-democratic and having an appalling record on human rights abuses, including the increasing persecution of Christians. But that hypocrisy is matched by Western politicians – who in the name of human rights seek to impose their ideology on their own people (and much of the rest of the world) but laud and court the Marxist Chinese regime and join in the celebration of the birth of the most destructive ideologue in history!

There is however a Christian alternative. One of Marx’s most famous sayings is ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his needs’. This was something that came out of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians ‘Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”‘ (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

Some people argue that in the early chapters of Acts, the New Testament church practised a form of communism. Whilst the early church did not abolish private property (one of the basic tenets of Marxism), they did teach that wealth should be shared and used, not stored and abused.

Marx argued for a society where relationships between people, rather than relationships based on capital, was the basis. Christians should agree with that absolutely. But Marx failed to take account of human sinfulness and as a result his ideology has never been able to achieve anything other than further injustice and violence. The Scottish founder of modern Capitalism, Adam Smith, in a book that was as influential (and more successful) than The Communist Manifesto, argued for a capitalism that was not based on consumerism and greed, but one that was based on Christian values (the jury is out on whether Smith himself was a Christian or not!).

Christians should not seek to condemn Marx because he was anti-Capitalist. We condemn him because, being anti-God, he became anti-human. His Godless, loveless, materialism has left a devastating legacy for the world. It is one we mourn rather than celebrate. Instead we point to the God who is Love and Justice; and the Jesus who warned us to seek our treasures in heaven, not on earth. Seek first his kingdom and all these things will be added to you!

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A slightly edited version of this article was first published on Christian Today

10 thoughts on “Should Christians Celebrate the Birthday of Karl Marx?

  1. We had nearly 2000 years before Marx was born to show the world a better way: opium, after all, has always been the greatest of pain relievers and the best science has never done more than refine its forms from God’s original botanical gift. Marx on the one hand, and Rand on the other, are our reward for catastrophic Christian failure – and God was generous in holding the uneasy balance of power between their philosophies, and the countries who practised them, so long as He did. I do not feel safer in the world we have today.
    Communism – even in a family – only works where everybody willingly plays their part and nobody either shirks or hoards. While forcing people to work for less and less reward until they’re only distinguishable from slaves by the lack of any obligation on the owner’s part to feed or house them, doesn’t work all that well for capitalism either. That there have been *some* good businesses trading and employing honestly in the past firmly demonstrates that the more brutal, unethical or verging-on-illegal practices are *not* “essential to survival in a competitive world”.
    We are supposed to live in a “Christian country” – by which too many people merely mean “white British” without having ever seen the inside of a church. Had we used the opportunity of Empire power more gracefully, who knows whether Marx and Engels – or, more hideously, Lenin – would ever have been heard of at all?

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    1. Very well put Karen – hear, hear and all that!

      I’m not sure of the exact figures in order to challenge David’s claim that Marxism ‘led to more deaths than any other ideology in the world’ – it really doesn’t matter, but my guess is that as followers of Christ – in the West – we should do a little less ‘finger pointing’ and perhaps a little more reflection on our catastrophic failure to spread the love, acceptance and non-violent message that Jesus stood for so very clearly. At the very least the so called ‘Christian nations’ in Western Europe (and subsequently the USA and British Commonwealth) who were bathed in Christian doctrine from the get go, must be capable of laying claim to running a very close second to Marxism in terms of the awful violence, oppression and suffering (and death toll) we have notched up over the past 2000 years – when we really should have known better – and yet we still hold onto our bombs and guns with a grip of steel. I do wonder what our world would look like today if we had never sold out to power and influence all those centuries ago?

      Maybe its time we started to REALLY attend to the words of Jesus and not continue to use our ‘religion’ as a way to justify the diabolical suffering around the world in the name of politicals, money and control (Wars, Slavery, theft of lands, Genocide, Apartheid to name a few). Its the same old story – I seem to recall that Jesus did try to point this out in a few of his teachings when he came to us in person, and for 300 odd years we listened until we were offered a place at the ‘top table’ of power and influence in the Roman Empire from where we have never been able to step down? We really should re-think and we really should not throw stones until our collective house is put back in order. It seems to me that the very ‘powers and principalities’ that we are meant to be so fearful of because they come from some dark evil source, are the very ones that we have created ourselves but we are so blinded to the obvious because we completely ignore the real teaching of Christ. When will we ever learn?

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      1. Only the Father knows – all we can do in the meantime is watch, work and pray as ever, trusting that He is still where He was and knows what He is doing.
        May He help us all.

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  2. “Maybe there should be a commemorative service at Westminster Abbey or the Vatican?”
    Don’t give the Vatican ideas.
    Most Catholics are still struggling with the idea of a Pope joining up with female Protestant ‘bishops’ to celebrate the Protestant Reformation and hail Martin Luther as some sort of saint.
    But a Vatican that can put Luther on its stamps and even erect a statue of him could just as easily do the same for Karl Marx.
    And given that a Cardinal proclaimed, after a visit to China, that China was the country which put into practice the social teaching of the Catholic Church more than any other I would not be at all surprised at warm words about Marx coming out of the Vatican.
    (Comment to non-Catholic readers. Yes, Catholics are allowed to criticise the Pope and the Vatican on certain matters. If anyone is under the delusion that all Catholics must applaud everything the Pope or the Vatican says or does please note that that is a delusion. And, yes, we have noticed that Paul criticised Peter on one occasion.)

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    1. The Cardinal you mention sounds exactly like the naive Protestants who praised European Communist states, and the USSR. I remember trying to convince an Episcopalian cleric, long before glasnost, that the USSR persecuted Christians. No success. Communism is anti-Christian of its very nature. Pope Pius XI was correct, in the Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, to call Communism a “satanic plague”. That was in 1937, well before the Chinese Communist gangsters slaughtered their tens of millions.

      How is a Chinese *laogai* any better than Vorkuta, Auschwitz or Belsen ? Why is the Hlodomor of Stalin all but forgotten, and the Shoah of Hitler remembered, to the point of becoming a sacred dogma, the denial of the extent of which is punished by Germany as a heresy ?

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  3. Should Christians celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Chancellor of the Republic of Germany, Fuehrer of the Third Reich ? Same answer.

    After all, he achieved a great deal. Rising from the ranks as he did, becoming Chancellor, then Fuehrer, restoring Germany’s confidence in herself, crushing Communism and other undesirable elements, is quite an achievement for an Austrian painter. He would have achieved even more even more if most of the Great Powers had not ganged up on the Reich.
    If Karl Marx can be celebrated by Christians, so too should Herr Hitler be: soldier, statesman, saviour of his country, political theorist, renewer of the German State.

    Hitler may have slain his millions, but Marx set in motion something that has killed dozens of millions. If one mass murderer and false prophet can be rehabilitated, it is utterly vain to treat the other as the embodiment of all evil. Secularism is secularism, whether its victims are millions of European Jews, Ukrainian kulaks, or Chinese peasants.

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