We've all heard the name of Karl Marx, but do we really know what his beliefs were? If we equate the Soviet Union and its kind of government and economy with Marx, we will claim to have known him, but our claims will be delusional.
To know Marx, one must read him, and that can be a challenge considering one's knowledge of history and the issues. But he is worth reading just to know who he really is.
Two people who have read some of his works and have commented on them are R.C. Sproul Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. The bulk of Sproul's available comment's can be found in his book, The Consequence Of Ideas (click here). King's review of Marx can be found at this link starting with page 92.
The difference in the reviews stems from their views of Capitalism. Sproul shows that he is a product of Capitalist ideology. It is not that he doesn't criticize Capitalism; but it is that the criticisms he expresses, at least in his review of Marx, are concerning aberrations of Capitalism, not its principles. King, on the other hand, is able to look at Marx from both a nonCapitalist position as well as Capitalist one. Thus King has a broader perspective of Marx and Communism while most of Sproul's concerns are, for the most part, parochial.
Sproul first gives background information on Marx including pertinent information on perhaps the beginning of Marx's rejection of religion. Then Sproul talks about some of Marx's views on labor and the Industrial Revolution. From there Sproul describes Marx's views on man's alienation. Interspersed with these remarks are Sproul's defense of or comparing Marx's views with Capitalism.
According to Sproul, Marx saw the Industrial Revolution as putting our humanity at risk. However, Sproul says little about Marx's view of the marketplace which, under Capitalism, was profound in how it changed man's relation with others, and pervasive in that the markets went global and those countries that did not welcome the markets put themselves risk of being left behind. In addition, Sproul didn't mention how Marx saw the Bourgeoisie's use of the markets and production as making society and our social relationships volatile because they were constantly changing.
In addition, Spoul left out the details as to how the worker and his labor became a commodity to the owner of capital or business owner. It is because as the worker is paid by the unit, his labor becomes like all commodities that are paid for by the unit. This makes the worker disposable, as well as his community which is supported by what he earns, because if a business owner can find cheaper labor, the current worker can be let go just as a business owner might buy a certain commodity from another vendor if that vendor was selling the commodity, like sugar, at a cheaper price.
As Sproul describes how Marx sees man as being separated from the "fruit of his labor" because of the lack of ownership, Sproul goes into a defense of Capitalism. He talks about how even executives are not owners unless they possess shares of stock in the company and that even low-wage earners can also be owners by owning stock. At this point, we have to ask if what Marx emphasized about the need for worker control has totally escaped Sproul's attention. For owning stock per se doesn't solve the problem Marx saw because it doesn't give workers control. That control is for those with wealth who can afford to own a large percentage of shares. So owning a few shares of stock does not change the status of the worker. In addition, as Chomsky has pointed out, a worker who owns stock in the company in his own company must root against his own best interests. This is because one of the ways a worker can gain a bigger return on the stock he owns is if the company cuts his wages so that it makes a bigger profit.
Sproul extols on how, in Capitalism, one's wealth works for the owner just as the land works for the farmer. And though here, he is talking about owning stock, he also then portrays the actual owner of a business as someone who deserves what rewards he/she can take because of the risk he/she is taking. That is because a high percentage of businesses fail after so many years. When this happens, the owner can lose everything. As true as that is, Sproul says nothing about how workers risk their future by devoting themselves to companies that could fail.
Sproul also remarks on Marx describing how man is separated from himself because his labor is "forced." For if man doesn't work for a business, he can no longer exist. Sproul goes on to say that, according to Marx, man is also alienated because he loses his creative freedom.
Finally, Sproul describes Marx's final alienation as a separation from others because his labor if for and is owned by others.
In commenting about how Capitalism divides people into the owners and the workers, Sproul is quick to comment on how Marx failed to see the emergence of the Middle Class. This is an odd comment simply because 1) Marx mentions the Middle Class multiple times in his writings, and 2) America's past shows that part of its Middle Class came about through harsh and sometimes violent labor struggles where the police often sided with business owners. Labor struggles are not a part of Capitalism but are praised by Marx. In addition, Marx saw different levels of classes rather than just the rich and the poor.
Sproul goes on to describe what he saw as Marx's failed attempt to provide an alternative for how value is determined in a Capitalist system. Then Sproul almost chides Marx for predicting that workers would suffer losses in a Capitalist system. Sproul attributes this to believing a "myth" that says that one can only get rich at the expense of others. Considering that we live in a world of finite resources with a marketplace that revolves around competition, it is difficult to not see any truth in the "myth."
Now we should note that Sproul's book came out in 2000. Since then, we had an economic collapse where millions of people lost both jobs and their homes and most of the recovery has been enjoyed by the rich. And it seems that Sproul had not noticed that the wages for the bottom 90% of the population have stagnated since 1973. In addition, Sproul seems unaware of the laborers who are invisible stakeholders in the Capitalist endeavor. These are those who work in foreign sweatshops for meager pay and in horrid conditions because of the lack of government regulations or enforcement.
What Sproul also seems unaware of is how American intervention has led to proxy rulers who have given America cheap access to the raw resources of other countries. Though Sproul correctly gives Marx points for foreseeing the practice of Crony Capitalism, he seems to be blind to the extent that Crony Capitalism exists and that the profit motive might make any other form of Capitalism impossible. At this point, we might ask Sproul, if Crony Capitalism is the real source of our prosperity and greater wealth, is such Capitalism then justified because of its results?
It isn't until the very end where Sproul rightly states that some of the basic tenets of Marxism are contrary to the Bible. He then adds that Marx's goal was the abolishment of private property and yet Sproul seems unaware of why or what that meant. Marx's contention was that private property, whether personal or business, was often used to control others and if one breaks that control, one has, in an ideal sense, abolished private property. Marx gives some states in America as examples of where private property was so abolished in his essay, On The Jewish Question (click here).
So, though Sproul can give a competent and useful summary of some of what Marx said, his analysis is limited because of his inability to step outside of the system in which he resides and benefits from.
Now compare the analysis above with that of Martin Luther King Jr.'s. King immediately condemns Marx's materialistic reductionism as a rejection of God, his ends justifies the means relativism because the "ends are preexistent in the means," and Communism's totalitarianism. Though we should note that not all who are on the Left here see that totalitarianism as representing Marx and Socialism. King goes on to condemn Marxism because of its blindness to how life is "individual and personal." That goes back to the existence of God and man being made in the image of God.
However, King was also able to see some of the problems Marx saw in Capitalism--this is in contrast to Sproul who could only see abuses in Capitalism. King saw that just as Marxism had filtered out the individual to focus on the collective, Capitalism did the same to collective and the social in order to focus on the individual. In contrast to that King saw the need for a synthesis that included both the collective and the individual which is what he might call a mixing of the best of both worlds.
In addition, King saw Capitalism as being as materialistic as Communism--what could one expect when Capitalism's claim to fame is in the amount of prosperity it has brought to the world. King saw the materialism in Capitalism as being as dangerous as that which is in Marxism.
Finally, King also understood the appeal of Marxism and Communism. For all of his heresies, according to King, Marx was concerned about the sufferings of the "underprivileged." That isn't the concern of Capitalism. Apologists for Capitalism see it lifting everybody up as a side effect. But that isn't what has happened everywhere in the past or is taking place today.
If we doubt Marx when he associated wars with Capitalism, all we need to do is to read former Marine Corps General Smedley Butler as he wrote about American interventions before WWII (click here and there) and historian William Blum as he documents the 50+ post WWII interventions (click here). Then if we look at wages, we see how globalization has lowered them for both low-skilled as well as technical jobs by both increasing the labor supply and by expanding the labor market to where there are fewer, if any, protective regulations for workers. We can also examine how Capitalism has ravaged the environment especially in its hunt for energy. Visits to some fracking sites as well as surveying the areas where mountaintop removal is used to mine for coal can sometimes give us living pictures of miniature apocalypses.
Both King and Marx saw Capitalism as reducing relationships to one of "self-interest" and the "profit motive." For King, this makes us thing-oriented rather than person-oriented. But the moral of the story here is about perspective. When one cannot look at one's own system from the outside and adequately criticize it, one's view of the world suffers from a kind of tunnel vision. So much of the world becomes obscure to us because of our focus. And this is the key difference between King's and Sproul's reviews Marx.
King can both criticize and commend Marx from a nonCapitalist viewpoint. Sproul's attachment to Capitalism prevents him from seeing many of Marx's detriments and contributions outside of how it relates to Capitalism. The result is that King can see the strengths and weaknesses of both Capitalism and Communism. In contrast to King, Sproul is somewhat like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable of the two men praying. Sproul can both thank God that he is not a Marxist and praise God for all of Capitalism's benefits. But remember that it wasn't the Pharisee who went home justified.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10