“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”
“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
“Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.”
I’m no expert in these matters. Forgive me if I blunder. But, honestly, I’m not saying anything new here.
Sometimes the world seems crazier than normal. Perhaps it is. Or maybe it’s always been crazy, but we just get used to some kinds of crazy and surprised by other kinds. And not a few people are wondering why, when the very real issues of racism are front and center, thrust upon our collective consciousness once again by the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of several police officers (should we call them thugs?), do we suddenly see passionate and violent young Marxists and anarchists emerging from every nook and cranny. See this, this, this, this (and even this from 2015).
[Note: I am not using “anarchist” in a pejorative way to only indicate the use of violent chaos to achieve some vague ends, rather I mean the philosophical and political positions found in formal anarchist ideologies.]
Clearly we are witnessing an emergence (or re-emergence) of what appear to be a new generation of Marxists rampaging our nation’s streets and social media, calling for the abolition of police forces, seeking to rewrite history, and demanding the redefinition nearly every important word in our language. I realize many protesting, hanging out in autonomous zones, or even acting out violently against police and defacing federal buildings would not necessarily call themselves Marxist. And certainly few today would identify with traditional Bolshevism. But Marxian socialism and its pervasive ideological intentions, often in language that doesn’t sound all that Marxist to many of us, is far broader today in scope and more internalized as self-evident truth than was witnessed in the example Soviet Russia. (I mean, troubling though it may be, we are all a little bit socialist in ways that either we recognize or don’t. It’s because of the “water” we swim in these days. I think many would go to their graves denying this reality.) Today it’s less about structural state Marxism and more about seeking a new life world, a new pentecost with a utopian spirit descending like tongues of fire. For many, they were suckled on the Marxist teet in a plethora of subtle ways and have adopted as the very ground of being the Marxist ideology.
It’s clear today’s protests are not quite the same as (though not unconnected to) Dr. King’s nonviolent, and essentially Christian, march for freedom. But it seems clear the eyes on the prize today are different eyes envisioning a somewhat different prize. And surprisingly, if the images we see are accurate, many or perhaps most of the protestors, are white teens and twenty-somethings. Regardless, though the protestors obviously are protesting racism and police brutality, many are protesting much more. It makes some sense to wonder if some of the protestors, or perhaps some of the leaders of the protests, have hijacked the news of the day to promote a different agenda.
Where do these passions come from? On the surface it’s easy to identify: Just watch the horrific video of George Floyd (or numerous others) getting killed or brutalized at the hands of highly militarized cops, and then connect the dots and no wonder people are literally outraged — raging out their anger. My heart breaks over see such brutality by the very people who are paid to protect us, and I too get angry. But why, given the traditional nonviolent approach of past and successful civil rights protests, do today’s protests so quickly abandon that methodology and cross over into rioting and unabashedly resort to violence? It’s hard to say. One could justly assume that the old ways didn’t completely work so they must be abandoned. But another thought is to consider that Marxian socialism (a.k.a. scientific communism) happens to be the political and philosophical underpinnings of many of those offering their leadership to these protests. Marxism arises from atheism. God is abandoned and thus the ways of MLK, perhaps adequate for a past age, must now be abandoned as well. For Marxists, fomenting dissent was never foremost about the proletariat and poor working conditions. Rather, it was offered as a religious alternative to Christianity and, by implication, Western Culture. We are, I believe, at a crux moment in history. The stakes are higher than ever. It is not a debate, not even a protest, it is a war.
In short, Marxian socialism is fundamentally religious in its origins, in its language, and in its goals. Nonviolent protests make ethical sense to a people informed, as they once were, by a Christian story and a God who gave his life for others. Nonviolence doesn’t make ethical sense to the Marxist whose narrative flows from Hegel to Marx to Lenin and onwards. Christians ought to know this. In fact, Marxism borrows much of its language from Christianity, which is why it speaks so viscerally and powerfully to its followers. This is by design.
I think a lot of people honestly protesting the evil they see in society would be rather shocked to take a closer look at this. But, I have to say, I’m no expert; I’m just trying to understand.
[Pause: Given the state of the world we are in I must state emphatically that I firmly believe that black lives do matter and this sentiment makes a ton of sense today. It is clear our county has been deeply, structurally racist and at times openly violent, and has a problem with it still to this day — and not only regarding African Americans, but Native Americans and other minorities as well. From a Christian perspective and a full understanding of sin this seems abundantly clear, and sadly, expected. Personally, I completely buy into the historical record that shows the political and economic machinations that led us to this time in history. To loosely paraphrase George Orwell, for too long we have created a country where “all lives matter, but some lives matter more than others,” which has led to innumerable injustices. It grieves me to know that in ways I don’t even recognize I probably have played a part in this system. I realize writing this may put me at odds with many on the right, including the religious right which I am not a part of though I may have a few “conservative” leanings. But I’m not on the right. And sadly, there seems to be a racist problem within some corners of the traditional Catholic movement, a movement for which I have strong affinities, but also struggle with. But this post is not about the sentiments of many ordinary folks, right or left or other, or what they believe they are fighting for or why they are posting #blacklivesmatter in their social media. The sentiment that black lives matter is a truly Christian sentiment. No follower of Christ can say otherwise. And I must say that I have more sympathies even with some of the views of the radical left than I do with the mainstream left (which I generally oppose because they are much a part of the “system” as the mainstream right), but in Christ there are no distinctions. All human beings are equal before God. He died for us all. He calls us to peace, not violence, not to seeking power over others. Violence begets violence, and sinful man loves violence. But Christ calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. And if we find another in need, including one suffering under the burdens of racism, including systemic racism, we are to be the good Samaritan. We are to cross the road to the “other” and care for that person. Ultimately our salvation will not be found in politics or the nation state. You want to be truly radical, follow Christ — completely. Racism is a sin. We are all sinners. I have no solution but to point to Christ. There but for the grace of God go I.]
What we think of as Marxian socialism began even before Marx was Marx as a stated replacement for Christianity. In France it was hoped, during the decade of the French Revolution, that socialism would replace both Christianity and the monarchy, and thus fill the spiritual vacuum left by their absence in the wake of the bloody revolution. In England, the path forward was promoted by Robert Owen as a kind of rational religion based in science that took shape in a short-lived Utopian socialist community he later founded in the United States. In Germany, it took shaped as the logical extension of Hegel’s philosophy. Socialism became a kind of Utopian ideal replacing Christianity as the next step of the great movement of world history. (This is, of necessity, a pathetically brief overview of these origins and currents.)
More to the point regarding the German strand of Marxian socialism, which has arguably been the most influential strand, Gareth Stedman Jones writes in his introduction to the Penguin Classic printing of The Communist Manifesto the following perspective (emphasis added):
[W]hat became of Marxian socialism in Germany in the beginning had nothing to do with industrialization or the social and political aspirations of industrial workers. On the contrary, it emerged from debates among radical disciples of the German philosopher Hegel, about what should replace Christianity or Hegel’s rationalized variant of it, ‘absolute spirit’.
In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels made a successful effort to cover over these religious tracks and to set in their place a socio-economic genealogy appropriate to their new communist self-image. […] In this way, the history of socialism or communism appeared to become synonymous with the emergence of the industrial proletariat[.]
But despite the Manifesto, socialism or communism was never to become synonymous with the outlook of the ‘proletariat’. The speculative or quasi-religious origins and character of socialist creeds, including that built upon the pronouncements of the Manifesto itself, continued to shine through the laboriously elaborated socio-economic façade. It was not the mere facts of proletarianization that generated the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century, but the experiences of social and political upheaval, shaped and articulated through the militantly and apocalyptic languages of communism or revolutionary socialism. For this reason, historians have rightly likened the passions, intransigence and extremism of twentieth-century revolutions to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The end of communism was not ‘the end of history’, but the end of an epoch in which criticism of global capitalism overlapped with the rise and fall of a powerful and organized post-Christian religion that, in the name of science, addressed itself to the oppressed. (Marx 8-10)
While the toppling of the Berlin Wall evidenced a powerful shift in global politics, that post-Christian religion really only died in the minds of hopeful neo-cons.
What we see in the passions, the verbal and physical attacks, the shouting down, the autonomous zones, the overturning of cars, the smashing of store windows, the iconoclasm, and the all too common disregard for logical arguments and historical facts, has arisen like some kind of religious cult with it own shock troops, whether they be those of the Antifa movement or any number of far-left groups. And this is why we are not hearing shouts for workers of the world to unite, or diatribes on class struggle, or that the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. Today it’s not about that, and it never really was. Suffering workers were used as a kind of social lever to move the mountain in the past and anti-racism is used today, but the goal is neither of those things in themselves. It’s bigger. It’s a religious war, like it always has been. It is about the total crushing of Christendom, which is the traditional name for Western Culture, and every possible vestige of it. And if you are surprised by the language, the energy, or the global reach of this “movement,” you’ve been living under a rock.
This is why some who say of course black lives matter and are deeply bothered by racism and stories of police brutality, are perplexed by the apparent hijacking of their hashtags by a violent Marxian agenda. Is this what it’s really all about? Are the autonomous zones the way forward? Why do we need to burn down a restaurant or deface a statue of Mahatma Gandhi?
It can be difficult, probably impossible, to separate agendas into neat boxes. The situation is rather fluid, and people are complex, but that fluidity might be to the benefit of those with specific long-term agendas who have been waiting for large-scale crises they can leverage for their own goals — a kind of disaster Marxism, to borrow and twist a phrase from Naomi Klein. The fact is, many see a connection between global warming, massive scale pollution, slave labor, racism, international corporate control, war, police militarization, the 1%, pandemics, the corporate industrial food system, and the continual cycle of governments lying, lying, and lying some more. Add to this the very real existential crisis of the God-shaped vacuum at the center of every single human soul on the planet and it’s no wonder we are experiencing a tidal wave of angst, rage, and fear washing over the world.
I mean, heck, I actually understand and appreciate Greta Thunberg’s anger.
But still, why all the smashing, why all the destruction? Is it a sign of weakness or a felt helplessness? To some degree, yes. But it’s more than that. With Marxian socialism you eventually get Marxism–Leninism. Vladimir Lenin took the religion of socialism and constructed a plan of action, that is, a truly revolutionary position that is not only unafraid of using violence to achieve its ends, it requires it. The goal was not merely to take hold of the machinery of the the state and make it one’s own. And it’s not actually about fairly distributing goods or leveling the playing field or even creating that so-called socialist economy that so many conservatives fear. The goal is to smash the state as Lenin declared. Rise up! Destroy it all, level it all down to the ground, start over. It’s energy flows forth from a complete and utter lack of faith in the Western historical narrative at nearly every level. It’s all dead. Out with it. Of course, Lenin was not the first to think this. In various forms such sentiments have been around for a long time.
But underneath it all is a hatred of Christ and God’s offer of salvation. (And in no way do I mean to equate state power or the sinful structures of authoritarian regimes with the gracious offer of God’s salvation or the never-fully-achieved ideal of Christendom.) I would hazard a guess that the visible riotous element we see in the headlines represents a tiny fraction of a single percent of the total number given over to the socialist religion. In those rare instances when the cameras pull back to reveal the contexts of the riots, they look small and rather insignificant in relationship to the much larger and actually calm urban landscapes. (Which also implies the headline-driving messages we are typically getting are created, in part, by photojournalists eager to sensationalize.) But we do see everyday the evidence that a post-Christendom West has no tolerance for the Christian message. Reactions go from shrugs to eye rolls to snears to hatred to physical violence as though they are attacking devils. The anti-Christian, and far more common anti-Catholic, prejudices are everywhere just below the surface and often out in the open. But of course most people don’t smash bank windows or peaceniks’ skulls because most don’t want to give themselves over to violence or lose their jobs. (When my new neighbor, as he is moving into the house next door and I’m helping him carry in his furniture, tells me point blank that he hates Catholicism, without prompting or knowing who I am, I am both laughing and crying inside. It’s going to be interesting having them over for dinner.) But the ideas of Marxian socialism, without most people even having a clue, are widespread and internalized by a great many from baristas to city council members to Catholic school principals. We were once warned about the “errors of Russia” and now they are normative “self-evident truths.”
Lenin himself stated: “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion… We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.” (Quote found here.)
Some might say what they see looks more like anarchists than Marxists. And they would have a point. Anarchism will naturally be less organized than Marxism and much of what’s happening appears more like rampaging than organized action. However, while traditional Anarchism and Marxism have often been at odds with each other, there is also much they have in common. Daniel Guérin writes in his book Anarchism, “The anarchist is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man” (Guérin 12).
Guérin goes on to describe the anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner, one of the most important and foundational thinkers on anarchism and, in many ways, the forerunner of our contemporary anarchist mindset. While using numerous quotes from Stirner’s book published in 1844, The Ego and His Own, Guérin writes:
In order to emancipate himself, the individual must begin by putting under the microscope the intellectual baggage with which his parents and teachers have saddled him. He must undertake vast operations of “desanctification, beginning with the so-called morality of the bourgeoisie: “Like the bourgeoisie itself, its native soil, it is still far too close to the heaven of religion, is still not free enough, and uncritically burrows bourgeois laws to transplant them to its own ground instead of working out new and independent doctrines.”
Stirner was especially incensed by sexual morality. The “machinations” of Christianity “against passion” have simply been taken over by the secularists. They refused to listen to the appeal of the flesh and display their zeal against it. They “spit in the face of immorality.” The moral prejudices inculcated by Christianity have as especially strong hold on the masses of the people. “The people furiously urge the police on against anything which seems to them immoral or even improper, and this public passion for morality protects the police as an institution far more effectively than a government could ever do.”
Stirner foreshadowed modern psychoanalysis by observing and denouncing the internalization of parental moral values. From childhood we are consumed with moral prejudices. Morality has become “an internal force from which I cannot free myself,” “its despotism is ten times worse than before, because it now scolds away from within my conscience.” “The young are sent to school in herds to learn the old saws and when they know the verbiage of the old by heart they are said to have come of age.” Stirner declared himself an iconoclast. “God, conscience, duties, and laws are all errors which have been stuffed into our minds and hearts.” The real seducers and corrupters of youth are the priests and parents who “muddy young hearts and stupefy your minds.” If there is anything that “come from the devil” it is surely this false divine voice which has been interpolated into the conscience. (Guérin 28-29)
So much is packed in these three paragraphs. And Stirner was writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Consider blaming parents and the Church on one’s conscience. Or that what comes from the devil is what the Church teaches. Or the need for “desanctification.” Or that we ought to listen to the appeal of the flesh. Or that the youth must be separated from their parents. One clearly gets the idea that Christendom must be razed to the ground, all systems and structures of political and social power destroyed, and that all authority disregarded and attacked if necessary. Words from more than a century and a half ago, and now again words for today.
Two possible questions of many: For those who have been fearing a socialist takeover of this or any other country, do you realize it’s not fundamentally a battle over which form of government or which economic system wins, but that it’s a religious war over whose god wins? For those who believe that black lives matter and that systemic racism must be confronted and eradicated, do you want to align your goals with Marxists and their larger agenda? I believe it would be wise for us to keep our eyes open even as our passions burn for justice.
The destruction of religious and political statues is linked to the destruction of Arby’s restaurants and Starbucks windows. This is not ironic. It’s not merely a matter of eradicating racism and corporations, as though that’s even really possible (though, of course, we must continually fight against sin in all its forms, including racism both personal and systemic), it’s about attacking all that smacks of the state, of Western history, of “the system,” of what has been handed down, of what is bourgeois, of what could be deemed vestiges of imperialism, and especially of what is Christian. The violent actions on our streets today are at a minimum cathartic for some, but many have hope for real change. The roots go back to before the French Revolution, but the modern version, I would argue, though linked directly with the radical 1960’s, find its origins in the internet fueled radicalism of the Battle for Seattle and soon thereafter the Occupy Movement. This is when this new Marxian consciousness we are witnessing began to foment and spread. It’s an old ideology playing out in a new technocratic era, and it’s been staring us in the face for a while now.
Marxian socialism is not dead, rather it is a religion being born again in the hearts of a new generation of believers.
Marx, Karl, et al. The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics). 1st ed., Penguin Classics, 2002.
Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism. Translated by Mary Klopper, New York, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1970.