Are there any bases for Christians to support communism as a political ideology?
COMMUNISM MAY BE DESCRIBED AS AN IDEOLOGY that seeks to promote a classless society. It envisions a society where the full equality of its members is recognised and respected, and where the public owns the means of production. Communists believe that under such a system of government the all-round development of the people will be made possible. In addition, they believe that progress in science and technology will guarantee the continued growth of the productive forces in society.
Communism therefore promotes an egalitarian society where public self-government is established, ordered according to the great principle, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Communism believes that its concept of public self-government, which encourages the active participation of all citizens in the administration of the government, will even replace the State.
Christians could endorse a number of communism’s emphases, for example, its stress on social equality, the just distribution of economic goods and its enthusiasm for science. Indeed, many Christians have embraced a moderate socialism that bears many familial resemblances to communism. But there is much in communist ideology that is antithetical to the Christian understanding of reality in general, and human society in particular. ese aspects of communism, it must be noted, are not peripheral to its philosophy but constitute its very essence.
Communism’s view of reality is based on the theory propounded by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx known as “historical materialism”. According to this theory, the fundamental factors of human life and society are “material” or “economic”. The “historical materialism” of Engel and Marx insists that everything else about human life is dependent on the economic basis of society.
The economic factors broadly comprise two elements. The first is the “forces of production” that includes the objects of labour (natural resources and raw materials), the instruments of labour (tools, machines and factories) and the men of labour (their skills and needs). The second element is the “relations of production”, which has to do with the ownership of the forces of production. Christians must critique “historical materialism” as a reductionist philosophy because human life simply cannot be defined in purely materialistic and economical terms.
The historical materialism of communism is dialectical and therefore atheistic. For Marx, all changes in nature arise from physical causes, and all changes in history arise from economic factors. As J. M. Cameron puts it, “In Marxist theory the entire development of reality is dialectical, and human history and laws governing it are only special instances of a universal principle.”
This dialectical materialism is therefore the basis for the atheism of communism. But communism does not only deny the existence of God; it seeks to abolish religion altogether. Religion is at best regarded as an unrealistic idealism that seeks to change the conditions of society by transforming the inner consciousness of its members without addressing its economic power structure. At worst, religion is an evil illusion, an opiate of the people (Marx). Marx therefore energetically calls for the elimination of religion. “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness,” he writes.
Communists maintain that religion is a pseudo-science that came about because of humankind’s fear of uncontrollable forces. Following the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, the communists maintain that God is but the projection of human possibilities. When these are achieved in the classless society that communism will establish, God is no longer needed. The theoretical and practical atheism of communism implies that there can be no such thing as absolute truth or morality. Truth and morality are just expressions of the interests of the proletariat.
As Mao Tse-Tung has so clearly stated: “The revolutionary practice of millions of people is the only standard for measuring truth.” Needless to say, Christians are unable to accept the atheism and moral relativism of communism.
CHRISTIANS COULD TO SOME EXTENT agree with some of communism’s criticisms of capitalism. There are ongoing creative and constructive conversations between Christians and Marxists on this and a number of other important issues. But it must be emphasised that although communism is theoretically concerned with economic democracy, in the end, it may in fact be promoting a form of totalitarianism. is is because in reality, economic and political power is not in the hands of the citizens but in that of the Communist Party, with its “unbounded authority” and its claims to infallibility.
Lenin’s “democratic centralism” is a case in point. is “democracy” does not allow criticisms of policies carried out by the Communist Party. is is pseudo-democracy because although the party claims to represent the interests of the proletariat, it does not provide the means by which this claim can be tested.
Despite its harsh criticisms of the “hypocrisy” of capitalism and the individualism of Western democracies, communism seems uncritical of its own practices of mass indoctrination and mass collectivism. As a species of totalitarianism, this form of rigorous conformism and subordination evident in most communist states violates human dignity and freedom even as it distorts the true meaning of society.
Finally, we must not dismiss the profound relationship between communism and violence. Millions have perished under communist regimes through terrorism, deadly purges, lethal gulags, forced labour, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions, genocides and democides (state initiated mass murders). Unconscionable mass murders were conducted to maintain ideological purity and a black-and-white dogmatism.
As Jacques Semelin puts it, “communist systems emerging in the twentieth century ended up destroying their own populations, not because they planned to annihilate them as such, but because they aimed to restructure the ‘social body’ from top to bottom, even if that meant purging it and recarving it to suit their new Promethean political imaginaire.” The Christian faith is never able to countenance these totalitarian and violent expressions of communism.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity College. He worships at the Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.