The Utter Failure of the 19th/20th Century Atheistic Icons
KARL MARX (1818-1883)
Marxism's Final Utter Failure
Marx: His Background and Family Life
Few people have had such a profound influence on the philosophy, politics and economics of the last 150 years than Karl Marx.
Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a comfortable middle-class home in Trier, close to the river Moselle, in Germany on May 5th, 1818. He was Jewish and actually came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family. But his father, an apparently irreligious man who had been strongly influenced by Voltaire, had agreed to baptism as a Protestant so that he would not lose his job as one of the most respected lawyers in Trier. So despite his heritage of serious religion, Karl's own father presented him with an early example of using religion only for personal advantage.
At the age of seventeen, Marx enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn. At Bonn he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen, who was a leading and influential member of Trier society. It was the baron who seems to have been responsible for interesting Marx in Romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics. But just a year later Marx's father took his son away from that sphere of influence and sent him to the University of Berlin where he remained for the next four years, at which time he renounced his Romanticism for the Hegelianism (See inset article, 'What Was Hegelianism?') which was developing an enthusiastic following in Berlin at that time.
Marx soon became a member of the Young Hegelian movement. This group, which also included the liberal theologians Bruno Bauer and David Friedrich Strauss, produced a radical and extensive critique of Christianity.
Finding a university career closed by the Prussian government, Marx moved into journalism and, in October 1842, became editor, in Cologne, of the influential Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper backed by industrialists. But Marx's articles, particularly those on economic questions, forced the Prussian government to close down the paper. Marx then went to live in France. He immediately began associations with extremist anti-authoritarian groups and this would be the pattern of his life. Marx was expelled from Paris at the end of 1844 and, with Engels, moved to Brussels where he remained for the next 3-4 years.
During the first half of the 1850s the Marx family lived in grinding poverty in a three room flat in the Soho quarter of London. Marx and Jenny already had four children and two more were to follow. Of these only three survived. Marx's major source of income at this time was actually Engels who was trying a steadily increasing income from the family business in Manchester. This was supplemented by weekly articles written as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune.
During the last decade of his life, Marx's health declined and he became incapable of his earlier sustained effort in much of what he did. He decided, in common with the popular vogue of the times, to travel all over European in search of the best spas and he also went to Algeria in search of a complete cure to his maladies. Without doubt, the deaths of his eldest daughter and his wife clouded these final years of his life. Karl Marx died on March 14, 1883 and was buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London. His collaborator and close friend Friedrich Engels delivered the eulogy at his funeral three days later.
Karl Marx was especially concerned with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all us, the power of our own labour. The whole notion of labour is fundamental to Marx's theories. Basically, Marx argued that it is simply human nature to transform nature, and he calls this process of transformation "labour" and the capacity to transform nature, 'labour power.'
For Marx, this is the natural capacity for a physical activity, but it is intimately tied to the human mind and to human imagination: Marx wrote extensively about this in terms of the problem of "alienation." Marx began with a Hegelian notion of alienation but developed a more materialist conception of this. For Marx, the possibility that one may give up ownership of one's own labour — one's capacity to transform the world — is tantamount to being alienated from one's own nature. Marx described this loss in terms of 'commodity fetishism' in which the things that people produce, commodities, appear to have a life and movement of their own to which humans and their behavior merely adapt. This disguises the fact that the exchange and circulation of commodities really are the product and reflection of social relationships among people. Under capitalism, social relationships of production, such as among workers or between workers and capitalists, are mediated through commodities, including labour, that are bought and sold on the market. Actually, some have claimed that these views of the younger Marx are not truly compatible with his later work.
In common with Engels, Marx believed that the control that one class exercises over the means of production (labour), includes not only the production of food or manufactured goods; it includes the production of ideas as well. Thus, while some of those ideas could be false, they also reveal in a sort of coded form some truth about political relations. For example, although the belief that the things people produce are actually more productive than the people who produce them is literally absurd, it does reflect the fact (according to Marx and Engels) that people under capitalism are alienated from their own labour-power. Marx, therefore, objected that the labour of ordinary people was in the hands of the wealthy (capitalists) who used and lived off the labour of their hapless subordinates like parasites.
What Was Hegelianism?
Hegelianism is named after Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). After studying theology at Tübingen he devoted himself successively to the study of contemporary philosophy and to the cultivation of the Greek classics.
To explain much within the philosophy of Hegel could take considerable time and space but, in a nutshell, Hegelianism is the monist, idealist philosophy of Hegel in which the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is used as an analytic tool in order to approach a higher unity or a new thesis. Hegel stressed the paradoxical nature of consciousness; the mind wants to know the whole truth, but it cannot think without drawing a distinction. Unfortunately, every distinction has two terms, every argument has a counter-argument, and consciousness can only focus on one of these at a time. So it fixes first on the one, then under pressure fixes second on the other, until it finally comes to rest on the distinction itself. Hegel refers to this process of alternation and rest as dialectic. Dialectical motion has three stages: 1. Thesis, 2. Antithesis, and 3. Synthesis.
Here is a very simple way of illustrating the process by which a synthesis is achieved:
The Dialectic of a Drinking Glass.
Thesis: Looking at a glass with some water in it, consciousness would not see anything at all if it did not distinguish between what is water and what is not water. If we suppose that consciousness begins as an optimist, then its thesis is an argument that the glass is half-full.
Antithesis: Faced with the objection that this is not the whole truth, consciousness becomes a pessimist who argues for the antithesis that the glass is half-empty. The antithesis is the opposite of the thesis.
Synthesis: Faced with the objection that this is not the whole truth either, and having already taken both sides, consciousness realizes that the whole truth is a synthesis: the volume that is empty equals the volume that is full.
Marx applied Hegelianism to all of society and life especially to oppose dogmatic religious, political and economic claims. He believed that society can only move forward through dialectical reasoning. Of course, this ultimately leaves no place for ultimate truth.
Marx argued that this alienation of human work is precisely the defining feature of Capitalism. Prior to capitalism, markets existed in Europe where producers and merchants bought and sold commodities. According to Marx, a capitalist system of production and manufacture developed in Europe only when labour itself became a commodity — when peasants became free to sell their own labour-power, and needed to do so because they no longer even possessed their own land. People, therefore, sell their work-power when they accept compensation in return for whatever work they do in a given period of time (in other words, they are not selling the product of their labour, but their capacity to work, or, their labour itself). In return for selling this power they receive money, which allows them to survive, though rarely prosper. Those who must sell their labour power in order to survive are "proletarians." The person who buys the labour power, most often someone who owns the land and also owns the technology to produce, is a "capitalist" or "bourgeois." The workers (proletarians) inevitably outnumber the capitalists.
But Marx distinguished between industrial capitalists and merchant capitalists. Merchants buy commodities in one market and sell them in another. The laws of supply and demand operate within many of these markets and there is often a difference between the price of a commodity in one market and another. Merchants, then, hope to capture the difference between these two markets, and do little harm. According to Marxism, however, capitalists, take deliberate advantage of the difference between the labour/work market and the market for whatever commodity is produced by the capitalist. Marx observed that in practically every successful industry input unit-costs are lower than output unit-prices. Marx referred to this difference as "surplus value" and he argued that this 'surplus value' had its source in surplus labour which was the difference between what it costs to keep workers alive and what they can actually produce.
To quote the Wikipedia Encyclopedia's article on Marx,
"The capitalist mode of production is capable of tremendous growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies. Marx considered the capitalist class to be the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly revolutionized the means of production. But Marx argued that capitalism was prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labour. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labor is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew.
When the rate of profit falls below a certain point, the result would be a recession or depression in which certain sectors of the economy would collapse. Marx understood that during such a crisis the price of labour would also fall, and eventually make possible the investment in new technologies and the growth of new sectors of the economy.
Marx believed that this cycle of growth, collapse, and growth would be punctuated by increasingly severe crises. Moreover, he believed that the long-term consequence of this process was necessarily the enrichment and empowerment of the capitalist class and the impoverishment of the proletariat. He believed that were the proletariat to seize the means of production, they would encourage social relations that would benefit everyone equally, and a system of production less vulnerable to periodic crises. In general, Marx thought that peaceful negotiation of this problem was impracticable, and that a massive, well-organized and violent revolution would in general be required, because the ruling class would not give up power without violence. He theorized that to establish the socialist system, a dictatorship of the proletariat - a period where the needs of the working-class, not of capital, will be the common deciding factor - must be created..."
(The Wikipedia quote comes from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx#Philosophy)
Jenny Marx who came from the powerful von Westphalen family.
One may certainly say that Marx was not entirely wrong in much of this and there is no doubt that in this world the wealthy and greedy tend to exploit the poor who only have their labour/work skills to offer. To recognise this was not wrong and to suggest solutions was not wrong. But unfortunately, as time progressed, Marxism became increasingly extreme with a committment to undermine stable and previously peaceful societies. One of the major errors in Marxism, then (and there were certainly others), was its committment to revolution and to conspirational intrigues and plots in order to further its aims. Violence was seen as inevitable on the immoral basis that 'the end justifies the means.'
The year 1848 was marked by the appearance of The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the primary exposition of the socio-economic doctrine that came to be known as Marxism. It postulated the inevitability of a communist society, which would result when economic forces (the determinants of history) caused the class war; in this struggle the exploited industrial proletariat would overthrow the capitalists and establish the new classless order of social ownership.
His General Influence and Its Outcome...
The History Guide; Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History sums up Marx's earlier influence quite well,
"No thinker in the 19th-century has perhaps had so direct, deliberate and powerful influence upon mankind as Karl Marx. The strength of his influence was unique. He completed the bulk of his work between 1844 and 1883, a period of democratic nationalism, trade unionism and revolution. Great popular leaders and political martyrs appeared upon the historical stage, their words stirring the enthusiasm of their audiences. Indeed, within Marx's lifetime, a new revolutionary tradition was born, and Marx's name would be forever associated with that tradition.
Yet Marx was not a popular writer or orator. Like most Victorians, Marx wrote extensively. 'The Grundrisse', a work not published in Russian until 1941, or in English until 1973, is really little more than a series of preliminary notes Marx made in preparation for his three volume masterpiece,'Das Kapital'. The Grundrisse is a 900 page notebook. The three volumes of 'Das Kapital ' weigh in at 2500 pages, and the three volume appendix, 'The Theory of Surplus Value' adds yet another 2000 pages.
Neither Marx's mind nor his pen ever stopped moving. Despite his penchant for lengthy diatribes against the evils of industrial capitalism, few people read Marx until the 1870s. By this time, people were reading Marx -- not just in Germany but in Paris, Brussels, Moscow and London. By the 1890's, Marx's books were translated into English and found their way to Chicago and New York. The desire to read Marx was not so much due to the intrinsic quality of the works as it was to the growth of the notoriety of the movement to which Marx and Engels appended their names, i.e., socialism and communism. Marx was not a great popular leader -- he was not a popular agitator. In this respect, he was quite unlike some of his more vocal contemporaries..."
(The full essay is here: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/lecture24a.html. By the way, there are things on that site that we definitely would not agree with - it is not a Christian site).
But, of course, Marx's first truly history-impacting influence came with the Russian Revolution of 1917. Many millions of people died in the resulting Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. yet apart from the Mongolian People's Republic, no other Communist state was created before World War II. The Chinese Communist party was founded in 1921 and began a long struggle for power, however, it received little aid from the USSR, and it was not to achieve its goal until 1949. But from the late 1940s, Marxist influence spread like wildfire.
The twentieth century became a century of unparalleled bloodshed very much caused by the followers of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Many communist dictators could be named who caused unaccountable bloodshed and suffering including Josef Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Joseph Stalin, born in 1879, was the communist dictator of Russia from 1941 until his death in 1953. During his brutal regime, he is believed to have slaughtered up to 50 million people, and helped spread the genocidal form of government which he always supported. Mao Tse-tung, born in 1893, was the communist dictator of China from 1949-1959. During his reign, he is believed to have been responsible for up to 60 million of his own people’s lives, and much like Stalin, worked to spread the destructive teachings of communism around the world. Influenced by these two evil central figures of its creeds in-action, numerous dictators were to follow in eastern Europe, Africa and central and south America. All of which is not even to mention the oriental world: Communist North Korea, for example, even now remains a despicable atheistic dictatorship which has actually carried out public executions of Christians during the last few years.
However, away from its militaristic dimension, Marxism - purely as an economic and humanistic philosophy - has tended to enjoy quite a separate existence. As a preferred total political system Marxism/communism could be said to be almost dead, but as a rallying-point for thousands of left-wing activists it lives on - despite its quite shameful record. Much of this separation (but not all of it) is undoubtedly due to the plottings of the Frankfurt School. To quote from my essay, 'The Influence of the 'Frankfurt School' on Modern Liberal Thought,'
'The Frankfurt School gathered together dissident Marxists, severe critics of capitalism who believed that some of Marx's alleged followers had come to parrot.. (too) narrow (a) selection of Marx's ideas...These men believed that there was much good in Marxism and that it could certainly be used to develop an advanced social theory. But, even beyond that, they were commited to developing and formulating an entire theory of life, human history and social ethics which would eventually need no recourse to European Christian civilisation in any area of life."
So the 'Critical Theory' developed by the Frankfurt School was committed to the belief that despite the errors of Marxism when seen purely as a full political/national system, there were great values in Marxist values which could nevertheless help shape a new post-Christian Europe. But far from developing a better life for all, the irony is that much within the Frankfurt School came to influence not only Nazism but, and perhaps especially, the modern unbridled Liberalism which has spread like a contagion all over the world. This is far too big a subject to enclose here - See my entire essay on the Frankfurt School HERE.
Marxism has been the most pervasive and influential of all the 19th/20th century movements which have encouraged a rejection of God and of the divine in order to be replaced with a purely humanistic and materialistic philosophy of life. In that sense it has been amazingly successful, but in this series on the great atheistic icons of this age, we insist on measuring success not on popularity but on the ability of any such philosophy to increase the joy, happiness, peace and security of those who have embraced such a philosophy. We ask whether the quality of human existence has been markedly improved by any such philosophical schema.
Okay, so has Marxism, which introduced a whole new theory of life and achievement and which offered a new intrinsic understanding of one's life, truly brought greater happiness, joy, contentment, peace, harmony and security to the lives of its adherents? We are going to see in a moment. Actually, rather like evolution and Freudianism, rejection of any conception of God is absolutely intrinsic to Marxist theory and – under the influence of this Marxism/communism - many thousands of people certainly gave up belief in religion, church attendance and in God; Indeed, the argument for calling Marxism a new religion which developed in the 19th century is very powerful! This is not as absurd as it may appear to a few: for not all religions include belief in a personal and all-powerful God but all religions are founded by highly individual charismatic leaders who very quickly develop a huge following! Typically, the followers become devoted to the religious goal of a glorious future which is promised and stop at nothing to enhance and to popularize their religion's claims.
So it can be seen that the zealous fanaticism and spirit of self-sacrifice which followed both Darwinism and Marxism would logically make both movements religious movements, and today, millions continue to have faith in both Darwin and Marx even though any truly honest and unbiased observer of modern life would have to conclude that both are failed religions/philosophies/explanations. Darwinism dies a little every day and Neo-Darwinism is a retreat yet, without question, millions still believe that the glorious future which it promised may still materialize. But in the case of Marxism it is especially incredible to realise that a few (only a few now), still believe that its promised golden age will yet arrive. Yet Marxism had the perfect opportunity to demonstrate its promised wonder and glory in the Soviet and Chinese experiments in which state-wide Marxist support was imposed and deviating opinions banned. What were the fruits of those experiments? Millions died in abject poverty and miserable suffering! To quote my essay, Secularism; The Most Evil Philosophy Known to Human Government,
The grave of Karl Marx at Highgate cemetry, north London.
“...what is probably far less well-known is that as many as 110-120 million people have been killed by communism alone – in eastern Europe, Africa, Central and South America, southeast Asia and China (the true figures for the massacres and governmentally-caused famines of the Chinese 'Cultural Revolution' and 'Great Leap Forward', for example, are only just emerging and historians have been stunned. Anything from ten to forty million people perished in China).”
My conclusion, which I suggest is unavoidable, is that Communism/Marxism which has promised people so much (and lamentably it has often been the poor who have succombed to its glorious but utterly false promises), is an utterly failed and fraudulent philosophy of life. It has destroyed and enslaved lives, it has encouraged and even perpetuated intrigues, suspicions, treachery, malice and it has assumed death and murder to be justifiable in the name of Marx and for the good of the “coming revolution.”
Even as a 'peaceful' “critical theory” (Frankfurt School-style) which would re-fashion modern society and launch new ethics for a post-Christian modern age, it is an especially desperate failure. This is because it is entirely built on a foundation of sand. It assumes evolutionary processes to be true and banishes God to nowhere. The inevitable result of this is that morality becomes meaningless! What place for morality in Hegelianism and in 'natural selection'? If absolute religious truth disappears and we are only left with the hazy and shifting mists of relativism, how can 'new ethics for a new materialistic age' be anything except a completely meaningless expression?
Robin A. Brace, 2006.
In this series I also cover: