Let’s talk about that first accusation, that Black Lives Matter is atheistic and Marxist. Where does this claim come from?
Story time. The founders of BLM are Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Khan-Cullors gave an interview in 2015, in which she said the following:
We actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super versed on, sort of, ideological theories. And I think that what we really tried to do is build a movement that can be utilized by many, many black folk. We don’t necessarily want to be the vanguard of the movement.
Seems pretty unambiguous. So it might seem strange that Khan-Cullors practices Ifá, a traditional West African religion. Marxists don’t usually participate in any religion, right? Moreover, Opal Tometi is a Christian. What’s going on here?1
The answer is, Marxism is a little like evangelicalism. The term does mean something, but it’s a lot more complicated than it looks. There are different versions of Marxism, including some very unorthodox ones—just like there are lots of evangelical denominations, and some are pretty fringe. The core idea of Marxism is that power and money are the main driving forces of history, and capitalism is bad because it exploits the working class in order to unjustly keep those things in the hands of the rich. That’s all you need to think to be, in some sense, a Marxist.
The kind of Marxism most Americans know about is Leninism. Leninism has some distinctive characteristics. For instance, it dismisses political reform and compromise. It advocates violently overthrowing capitalist regimes, in order to create an authoritarian state that controls the economy. It claims class is the only correct lens through which to understand society. And it is uncompromisingly materialist and, yes, atheistic. This is one form of Marxism, but it’s not the same thing as Marxism. There are Marxists who took his ideas in other directions. Some, such as anarchists like Pyotr Kropotkin, were severe critics of Lenin and the Soviet Union. Moreover, while few Christians could embrace Marx entirely, some Catholics have been strongly influenced by Marx. St. Óscar Romero and Ven. Dorothy Day spring to mind. Even Pope Benedict XVI, for all his critiques, has positive (if qualified!) things to say about Marxism, for example in Spe Salvi.
So while Khan-Cullors and Garza are “trained Marxists,” that tells us rather less than we might think. This first assertion about BLM seems to be half-true. “Atheistic” isn’t going to stick when, at least two of the three founders are explicitly religious. But “Marxist” probably will, even if it means something different from what most people think it means.
Except—will “BLM is Marxist” stick? Because remember, whatever its source, that’s a claim about the organization. That isn’t the same thing as the people who founded it. Does being founded by (at least some) people who are Marxists mean the organization is Marxist?
Continued in Part Three: Is BLM Marxist?, Part Four: Violence, Part Five: Reporting on Violence, Part Six: Is BLM Violent?, Part Seven: Is BLM Anti-Family?, Part Eight: Does BLM Support the Gay Agenda?, Part Nine: Does BLM Support Abortion?, and Part Ten: So What?
1Alicia Garza is Jewish, but I couldn’t find any details about whether she’s religiously observant, so naturally I’m not basing any argument on that.