Marx's Mistake – UPDATED

My Tuesday column is up:

It was not the Marxist ideal in communism that was in error, really. It was that communism was compelled, rather than voluntary. Sometimes a sympathizer with classical Marxist ideology will write to me expounding on the compassionate and generous instincts that he believes are at the heart of Marxism, and reminding me that the Acts of the Apostles describes “wealth distribution” as a social good.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. (Acts 2:44-45)

If Marxism has failed to make manifest the gloriously free and prosperous (or at least materially comfortable) society that it has long-promised—and the more honest debaters will admit that it has failed to produce either liberty or prosperity, wherever it has been tried—the failure, my correspondents argue, has been one of application. If only the right sort of people were charged with implementing Marx’s ideas, the theory would prove itself remarkably successful, just as it was for the Apostles.

Well, I agree. But I hasten to point out that the operative words in these verses are “right sort.” The believers freely gave up their properties for the good of the whole community. Non-believers were not compelled to participate; they were left to their own affairs.

Ora et Labora

Some will wonder why I do not mention Buddhist monastics, or others; it’s simply because no one every cites Buddhist text to me as an argument for communism!

UPDATE: Over at PJTV, Stephen Green is talking about Marxist “economics and fashions.” Yeah, it’s a cheap shot, but he admits it.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Jeanne

    Thank you so much for posting the picture of the Discalced Carmelites from Guam!
    I was blessed to live there for five years and they are a true gift. You can read bout them here:
    link

  • Old Buckeye

    Nonbelievers might be those who see any system as one to be scammed, to line their own pockets, to seize power and control. They’ll wreck any kind of cooperative every time.

  • Ellen

    Totally OT: Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman is going to be on Throwdown With Bobby Flay this Wednesday on The Food Network. I know you like Ree, Anchoress, so you might want to watch this. They are going to each cook an entire Thanksgiving meal.

  • http://zachriel.blogspot.com/2005/07/liberal-v-conservative.html Zachriel

    Democratic land reform was a reasonable and just goal in much of Latin America, due to the vestiges of colonialism, where individual farmers were removed from their land and forced to work in large plantations, primarily for the export market. These were resisted by the gentry, who were often funded by the U.S. in order to maintain the status quo and as a counter to the spread of “communism.” Those efforts resulted in many deaths, mostly due to death squads under military governments, though some due to revolutionary activity, and more recently in conjunction with the drug wars.

    Urbanization probably means that land reform is no longer a useful goal, except in the case of aboriginal populations. Education and industrialization will supercede the former need for agrarian reform.

    The Anchoress: The believers freely gave up their properties for the good of the whole community.

    Ideally. Or at least through democratic means. But the latter was usually prevented by the powers-that-be; United Fruit, et al.

    [Well, we're talking about 'ideals' in this piece. But now that I think of it, I wish I had mentioned the fact that whenever secular communists come into power, the first thing they do is shut down the monasteries--the ideal communes.

    From The Right to be Merry by the outstanding Mother Mary Francis, PCC, I came across a passage I’d missed before, written in the first edition (1956) of the book:

    The children of light walk heedless of the source of their light. The children of darkness know better. And when the hour of darkness is at hand in any country, the first act of the powers of evil is invariably to throw the switch. They raze the cloisters. They turn the contemplatives out of their monasteries with loud speeches about the good of the state and about contributing to the social need. [...]

    By a strange paradox, the persecutors of religion are always far more spiritual-minded than the common run of humanity. It is a perversion of spirituality, but it is a kind of spiritual vision, nonetheless. One has to be very spiritual-minded to grasp the true meaning of the cloistered contemplative vocation, very convinced of the supernatural values to understand its supreme significance for the universal Church. Those who hold power in communist-dominated countries have a very comprehensive grasp of it. They understand its significance quite perfectly. If they sometimes draw red herrings of “national churches” across their atheistic paths, they dare not deal even in half-measures with cloisters. We shall grow old and die waiting for Russia or (Communist) China to set up “national cloisters.”

    -admin]

  • John

    The choice to follow Jesus is not the same as the choice to give all of one’s money to the church.

    The choice to give all or part of one’s money to the church to be shared in common was a free choice for believers–or so it would seem from Acts 5:4, where the sin is lying to God, not keeping some of the money per se.

    It’s part of being a proper Christian that one’s whole life is dedicated to God, but I think it’s a mistake–often a very serious, very corrupting, cult-like mistake–to conclude that that entails one should therefore give all one’s money to a particular church.

    [I don't think I argue anywhere in my piece that being a believer means one automatically gives up one's goods. I said that those who did were believers. That's quite different. -admin]

  • John

    Also, while it seems right to think of the _greatest_ error of Marxism being the coercion–just append “as enforced by the Central Workers’ State Security Apparatus” to each beatitude and see how it reads–it’s also really important to realize there are myriad other fundamental economic and political errors in Marx, such as the labor theory of value.

    It’s just that without the coercion, those other errors don’t matter that much, since without coercion, Marxist communities just fail before they can do much harm.

    Pseudo-counterexample: they can survive without coercion but with subsidies as intellectual islands, but there their harm is “only” cognitive, and is limited to the few voluntary disciples. In universities, the damage done by Marxism and its dysfunctional children is more due to PC coercion in hiring, promotion, grading, and stigmatization, than directly to the subsidies from the government or erstwhile capitalist foundations, I think.

    So maybe this is the best nutshell: nowadays, Marxism requires coercion to “flourish”, and political subsidies to survive. (Though that has been true of churches sometimes, shamefully.)

  • tamsf

    Whenever I hear that scripture quoted as a rational for communism or socialism “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” I am reminded that it wasn’t too much later that Paul had to write to the Thessalonians to say “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (New American Standard Bible)”

    So even in New Testament times, the problems inherent in the marxist or socialist systems were manifest.

  • John

    I didn’t mean to imply that you did think that being a genuine believer meant one must automatically give all, financially speaking, to the church, but I admit I was not sure if that’s what you meant:

    “The believers freely gave up their properties for the good of the whole community. Non-believers were not compelled to participate; they were left to their own affairs.”

    [I see what you mean; that could have been clearer! What I meant, and could have written better, obviously, is that the believers who chose to communed. And in no way did they try to compel anyone else to. Thanks -admin]

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    From tamsf:
    Whenever I hear that scripture quoted as a rational for communism or socialism “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” I am reminded that it wasn’t too much later that Paul had to write to the Thessalonians to say “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (New American Standard Bible)”

    So even in New Testament times, the problems inherent in the marxist or socialist systems were manifest.

    Great point. And no where does Jesus in the Gospels impliy communism. He advocates begging, which are in essence appeals to the free choice of the giver. Marxism must be enforced through a restriction of free choice. There is nothing more evil than forcing people to give up what they freely earned through their labor. That is not CHARITY. Charity is a free giving out of one’s heart, out of love. Taxation enforced through the point of a gun (that’s how it’s essentially collected whether you like it or not) is not giving out of love. That is why tax collectors in the New Testament are so hated, and why Christ saw their redemption as such a blessing. The true prodigal son returning. There is really nothing in the New Testament that supports Marxism. That is a fallacy.

  • Sal

    Not totally OT:
    Ms Voskamp made me think of you, right off-
    link

    The idea of intentional communal living is being actively debated on black women’s empowerment blogs, i.e. black single mothers and other black women, having given up on black men, banding together to get out of the bc to work and raise their kids. They might examine religious communities for some ‘how-to’s” to adapt to their situation.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention The Anchoress | A First Things Blog -- Topsy.com

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    If it was free and voluntary, THEN IT WOULDN’T BE COMMUNISM. Rather, it would be the free market.

    Moreover, one of the fundamental errors of Communism, beyond its gross materialism, is the idea of man being able to create a paradise on earth, that is, implicit in Communism is that original sin of wanting to be like God, but which never has and never will create a paradise, but always has and always will end up creating hell.

    The Church has always rightly condemned Communism per se. There is no “if only we get the right people” or “if only we do it right” — Communism is, in and of itself, a grave evil.

  • Momma Kyle

    My Blessed Grandma, (born in 1899, deceased 1987) and very patient with me as I argued the virtues of Communism —(helpfully emphasied to me by the public schools)—-she used to always tell me
    “Communism only works one place–in the convent”
    I haven’t thought about that in years—thank you Anchoress!!!

  • Bob Devine

    Quote…. “Acts of the Apostles describes “wealth distribution” as a social good.”

    That is actually true but I believe misunderstood by todays socialists. For a person to distribute their wealth is desirable for the government to redistribute your wealth is wrong!

  • Andrew B

    When they are freely chosen, many things can be good. 1)Celibacy, 2)single-sex living and 3)socialism give us, more or less, 1)the 1priesthood, 2)the United States Marines and 3)the Trappists.

    When they are compelled, they give us something very different, and not pretty.

    Socialism can be wonderful, if entered into honestly, openly and freely. Once compelled, it is just another way for brutal men to take what they can get from others.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    For a person to distribute their wealth is desirable for the government to redistribute your wealth is wrong!

    When I put money in the collection basket at church so that they can do some good with it, I am redistributing wealth. When I give money to the homeless guy hanging outside the 7-11 so that he can get something to eat, I am redistributing wealth. When I go buy a cheeseburger at McDonald’s so that they have the money to give jobs to people, I am redistributing wealth. When I put my money in the bank, which then uses those funds to lend to people to buy homes or cars, I am redistributing wealth. When I buy some shares on the stock market, where some company then uses the money to buy equipment to run a business which provides goods to customers and jobs to employees, I am redistributing wealth.

    When government shoves its grubby hands into my pocket and forcibly takes my money and gives it to whoever it arbitrarily decides should have it, that is not redistribution of wealth, that is destruction of wealth.

  • Barbara

    The small group described in Acts fits Rerum Novarum. Can one say the same for any social democracy running Greece, or California, for that matter?
    Has any socialist or communist government delivered economic or political equity? How many people died under Lenin/Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and on and on.

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    Um – excuse my ignorance, but didn’t that early Christian commune also ultimately fail?

    Socialism/communism is a false promise. The idea that having the “right people” running the system will make all the difference this time is a false promise. As such, it is of the devil. Unfortunately, it seems every generation since Marx has had to learn this anew… sometimes at terrible cost.

  • cathyf

    Democratic land reform was a reasonable and just goal in much of Latin America, due to the vestiges of colonialism, where individual farmers were removed from their land and forced to work in large plantations, primarily for the export market.

    The effect of repeated land reforms in Mexico is that something like 90% of Mexican land has clouded title. This means that a family in Mexico that wanted to put up their home as collateral to get a loan to finance a business can’t do it — because it’s not exactly their house.

    The fruits of this are manifest: you have a country with industrious people, great climate, abundant natural resources, and instead of having a flourishing middle class, their people have to make desperate life-threatening illegal border crossings and then take crummy low-paying jobs.

    The whole “fair” thing just kills it. You have some pieces of property, each of which could legitimately have several owners. If you just arbitrarily and capriciously picked one owner for each property, then those owners could put the capital to work, and give jobs to the people unfairly excluded, and soon everyone would prosper. Instead, “fairness” dictates that everyone be desperately impoverished.

  • Elaine S.

    Equating government-imposed communism with the voluntary, freely entered communal life of the early Christians or with religious life makes about as much sense as equating long-term sexual harassment and/or abuse with a happy and fruitful marriage.

    The evangelical counsels that form the basis of religious life — poverty, chastity, and obedience — all involve voluntary renunciation, not of evil things, but of GOOD things that people have a natural, God-given right to.

    Poverty means giving up the right to earn one’s own living and own private property. Chastity — or more precisely, celibacy — means giving up the natural right to marry and raise a family. Obedience means giving up the right to determine one’s own occupation and place of residence and instead accept whatever one’s superiors dictate in this regard. To voluntarily renounce these rights in the service of a greater good is a virtuous, even heroic, act; to take these rights away from someone against their will is a terrible evil.

  • Doc

    Leave it to Zach to defend Communism (love the scare quotes) by labeling it land reform. Classic.

  • Pingback: Steynian 429st « Free Canuckistan!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X