Marxism/Leninism is alive and well, and yet, given a bit of time, it collapses and dies wherever it goes. It is alive and well in South Africa — and yet, Marxism/Leninism is collapsing and dying in Venezuela, it died in East Germany, etc. How should Marxism/Leninism be described? What are the theological foundations (or lack thereof) of this worldview? What are its fatal flaws? What does the Bible say about government in a fallen world?
A Description of Marxism and Leninism
Marxism/Leninism does not start with ‘in the beginning God’, but rather with ‘there is no god’. The high priests of this worldview system, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, were unreserved atheists. For them, there is no reality beyond matter. As such, all is atheistic, materialistic and evolutionary. One of the greatest disciples of Marx and Engels, one Vladimir Lenin (1978, 15:402), wrote that the ‘philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is …a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion’. Marxism/Leninism is therefore not just an economic and political theory, but it is first and foremost an atheistic, materialistic and socialist religion.
If this material world is all there is, what is Marx and Engels’s view of how this matter historically moved on earth? They viewed history as four epochs of class struggle between oppressor and oppressed. These supposed epochs include (1) Primitive and Communal; (2) Slave; (3) Feudal; and (4) Capitalist. In their Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels say that epoch 5, a socialist-communist phase, will right the wrongs of all previous phases, leading to some sort of Utopia. In his speech on 22 July 2018, Mr Ace Magashule, Secretary-General of the ANC, summed it up all too well:
A communist party is the vanguard and the most advanced detachment led by the most advanced sections of our society. It is the political leader of the struggle of the working class guided by the scientific revolutionary theory of Marxism Leninism. Its supreme goal is to achieve the highest form of human society, which is communism. A system which is about the creation of a classless society, a communist society based on the foundations of equality.
But how do you accomplish this so-called ‘highest form of human society’? The working class of the world (the proletariat, the oppressed) must unite and cast away the ruling class (the oppressors, the bourgeoisie). If this happens, a significant move from economics to politics happens, as the economic system must be ‘transformed’ through political overthrow. Then economic power resides with the political elite in charge of the state (no doubt ‘led by the most advanced sections of society’).
What is the recipe to reach this Utopian communist age? The Communist Manifesto (Marx & Engels 1967:96) clearly states that the ‘solution can be summed up in the single sentence: the abolition of private property’. Moreover, the ‘current middle-class owner of property… must be swept out of the way, and made impossible’ (Marx & Engels 1967:99). If a classless, communist society is to be reached, however, the abolishment of property rights is just the beginning. Most divinely ordained institutions, like marriage, family and nations, are just fodder for the reinterpretations — euphemistically called ‘transformations’ — of the Marxist-Leninists. For example, Noebel (2006:269) rightly points out that in the ‘new [Marxist-Leninist] social order premarital and extramarital sex and adultery cease to have the same meaning because within the context of [this] community, there is no private property and everyone belongs to everyone’. Chillingly, even the care, education and upbringing of children is not viewed as the responsibility of parents, but it becomes a public affair, the responsibility of the entire community.
The Communist Manifesto identifies ten characteristics of its so-called Utopian society. While Cone (2016:194) is used to summarise these ten characteristics, noted below, I add comments of a South African flavour in [brackets]:
- Abolition of land for public purposes [Expropriation Without Compensation].
- A heavy progressive and graduated income tax [Never in South Africa?!].
- Confiscation of property of emigrants and rebels [‘Xenophobia’].
- Centralization of credit via national bank [Malema wish list].
- Free education for all children in public schools [and universities: Fees Must Fall].
- Business segments controlled and regulated by the state [Mining Charter, NHI].
- Abolition of the right of inheritance.
- Equal liability of all to labour.
- Combination of agriculture and manufacture, erasing town/country distinctions.
- Centralisation of communication and transport.
Take the first number on the above list. God said you shall not steal, but atheists claim there is no God. How then is theft justified, or rationalised? Noebel (2006:147) summarises ‘proletariat morality’ well: ‘The ethical belief that whatever advances the proletariat and the cause of communism is morally good and whatever hinders the proletariat or communism is morally evil’. In the Marxist-Leninist worldview, morality is therefore neither fixed nor absolute, for whatever advances the cause of communism is considered morally good. Magashule (2018) contended for just such a flexibility: ‘The [South African] constitution can never be cast in stone, it must be a flexible instrument to serve the needs and advancement of the people’. As for Marxist morals, who defines these? The classless society, those who view themselves as ‘the oppressed’, the proletariat. (And don’t you dare tweet otherwise.)
How does the above manifest in reality? In 1981, Jawitsch (quoted by Noebel 2006:304-305) argued that the complete ‘success in the masses’ struggle for their democratic rights and liberties can only be achieved by overcoming [white?] monopoly capital’s economic and political domination and establishing a state authority that expresses the interests of the working people’. The ANC in South Africa has annually confirmed the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), in which various interests are expressed. In an article warning South Africa to avoid the abyss, Cronje (2018) states that,
NDR theory was based on Lenin’s theory of imperialism, which claimed that the wealth of the colonial powers arose solely from their oppression and exploitation of the colonised. From this foundation, Lenin argued that the purpose of anti-colonial revolutions must always be to dispossess the coloniser – and then embrace communism – failing which the colonised could never be free. … white/capitalist prosperity is [viewed as remaining] solely the result of the oppression and exploitation of the black majority, and indeed prolonged that poverty – and that the coloniser, despite his integration, would have to be dispossessed if the colonised were ever to be free. The ANC has annually recommitted to the NDR, right up to this year.
What is Marxism/Leninism eschatology, in the end, how does it look in Utopia? Having obliterated all vestiges of stage 4 of world history (capitalism) and all class distinctions, the high priests of this worldview predict that the state itself will disappear. In the end, when a supposed nirvana is reached, trust the political elite to remove themselves from the scene — after all, until then, they are a class above all else. But one wonders when exactly Stalin, Lenin, and a plethora of other Marxist-Leninist dictators were (centrally?) planning to remove themselves from the scene. But that is just one of the many fatal flaws of this religious worldview called Marxism/Leninism.
The Fatal Flaws of Marxism/Leninism
In March 2018, in the context of a discussion about expropriation without compensation, the previous Secretary General of the ANC, Mr. Gwede Mantashe, said: ‘There is a man in Queenstown, he is a big farmer. Every farm that comes to the market, he buys it. It cannot be fair. When we talk of expropriation without compensation, those are the first candidates because he is not needing land, he’s greedy. We must deal with greed’ (see Daniels 2018). Whether this is indeed a case of greed or not is not discussed now (perhaps the farmer is incredibly productive with the resources under his disposal, perhaps he can spread fixed costs across more acreage, etc.). Let us assume for purposes of argument that greed is indeed in play. Greed is indeed sin (cf. 1 Tim 6:10), but God said this thousands of years ago, way before Marx and Engels were even born. Be that as it may, how should governments deal with greed — if at all? And if greed is a problem, how should governments deal — if at all — with envy, theft, murder, jealousy, false witness, gossip, etc.? The first fatal flaw of Marxism/Leninism is that it completely misdiagnoses the problem. Cone (2016:195, 197; my emphasis) is spot-on:
Communism sets out to free the human condition from the greed that so entangles us and that ultimately facilitates our own enslavement. Communism is most ambitious in its diagnosis of the human condition (greed, oppression) and in its prescription for redeeming the human condition (the abolition of all private property, and the dissolution of every societal force promulgated by the existence of capital). In communism, morality (albeit entirely redefined) is legislated to the utmost. … [Marx and Engels] misdiagnose a spiritual problem as an economic one. No amount of legislation can resolve the evil of the human heart. Law doesn’t remedy the problem; rather law makes the problem evident (e.g. Rom 2:14-15; Gal 3:24). Law serves an important purpose — both in a spiritual sense and in a socio-political one, but it cannot make men righteous. Law cannot impart the spiritual life necessary to transform one from depraved enemy of God to child of God. Law simply points us to Christ — to show us how gravely we need His gift of life, in Him, and through faith in Him.
Flowing from the above is probably the most fundamental fatal flaw. According to Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, the fool says in his heart, there is no God. Marxist-Leninist atheists who have a problem with this statement can take it up with God.
As alluded to earlier, God created certain divine institutions, like marriage, family, and nations, but a Utopian communist state diametrically opposes God’s order.
From the unconditional Noahic covenant, which orders the death penalty for murderers, one can surely infer that human beings have, at the very minimum, the right to life and the freedom/liberty to express such life. In his Second Treatise on Government, John Locke contends that the right to life necessarily includes the right to personal property. But Locke goes further and argues that human beings not only have the right to life, and thus private property, but one also has the right to retain the property one has lawfully earned. Cone (2016:187) emphasises the principle of universality, namely that a basic human right, such as life, must be equally held and cannot infringe on the rights of others. The role of government is then to protect these basic rights (life and liberty) from foreign and domestic threats. But protectingthese rights is not the same as providing it.
If a government starts to grant more basic rights, like a right to employment, or a right to medical care, Cone (2016:189) reasonably asks whether someone else will have the right not to employ, or the right not to provide medical care. Moreover, do these additional rights come from God or from government … for if government can grant ever more rights, or restrict rights, then they can also control these rights (Cone 2016:189). These following remarks of Cone (2016:190; my emphasis) are relevant, particularly to South Africans at this time:
The issue is that an unbounded government is not at all consistent with a constitutional one. When government takes on the role of God (able to grant inalienable rights), one government ceases to exist and another begins. In short, a government mandating social justice — by taxation or other means — has stepped outside of its well-defined parameters, and has moved towards despotism, even if doing so on well-intentioned grounds.
Many more fatal flaws of Marxism/Leninism can be highlighted, but only a few are briefly mentioned. Making a profit is not per se sin. The price someone is willing to pay is not only determined by the cost of materials and labour (as Marx thought); consequently, profit is not necessarily the result of exploiting labour. Free market capitalism may have uncertain, chaotic and messy outcomes — at least individuals have the freedom to transact — but this system is still much better at allocating scarce resources than the efforts of only a few elite central planners dancing to Comrade Vladimir’s tune. Contrary to Marx and Engels’ misdiagnosis of history, people of West Germany did not flee over the wall to East Germany; Americans are not rushing to Venezuela. Moreover, countries such as Russia, Cuba and Venezuela have faithfully implemented Marxist-Leninist dogmas — and how is that working out for them? Et tu, South Africa?
Government in a Fallen World
The genius of the founding fathers of America is that they started with the Biblical assessment that human beings have a fallen nature. For this reason, they devised a structure of government that provides numerous check and balances upon those in legislative, judicial and executive branches of government — and also on government itself. James Madison, arguably the chief architect of the United States Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 51:
But what is government but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
As Woods (2018:E-book Loc 1444 of 3018) writes, the American system of government ‘divides power and created checks and balances for each branch of government, so no one branch can get control of everything’. The following remarks by former Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia (1936-2016), explains the uniqueness of America’s Constitution, a constitution with recognises God as the Creator, the Giver of certain basic rights, and the fallen nature of human beings:
Every tin horn dictator in the world today, every president for life, has a Bill of Rights…That’s not what makes us free; if it did, you would rather live in Zimbabwe. But you wouldn’t want to live in most countries in the world that have a Bill of Rights. What has made us free is our Constitution. Think of the word “constitution”; it means “structure”. That’s why America’s framers debated, not the Bill of Rights, during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia…but rather the structure of federal government. The genius of the American constitutional system is the dispersal of power. Once power is centralized in one person, or one part [of government], a Bill of Rights is just words on paper. A constitution is about setting structure; it is not about writing the preferences of special interest groups.
If a constitution is indeed about setting structure and precisely not about the preferences of special interest groups, one can only frown upon the comments of the British Prime Minister during the past few days. Ms. Theresa May said that the United Kingdom supported South Africa’s land reform ‘that is legal, transparent and follows democratic process’. Firstly, as of today, expropriation of property without compensation is illegal in South Africa. The constitution has not yet been changed to pander to the preferences of special interest groups. Secondly, whether someone steals your property transparently or un-transparently makes no difference, it is still theft. And whether someone takes your property with a smile or a nice stiff upper lip, or whether they take it violently or via a land grab, it again makes no difference to the conclusion. Thirdly, something that is ‘democratic’ is not necessarily right, for numbers do not determine the truth of a matter. In fact, Christ told his disciples to walk on the narrow road, not the wide road which leads to perdition. Moreover, if the previous President of South Africa, Mr. Zuma, is to be believed, in a democracy, minorities have fewer rights than the majority. As Foster (2012) reported, Mr. Zuma said, ‘You have more rights because you’re a majority; you have fewer rights because you’re a minority. That’s how democracy works’. This is a rather novel principle in jurisprudence — and yet, it is no less mistaken than the remarks of Ms. Theresa May.
Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon river was an event in 49 BC that precipitated the Roman Civil War, which ultimately led to Caesar’s becoming dictator for life and the rise of the imperial era of Rome. Many countries, but South Africa in particular, are literally at the precipice, about to cross the Rubicon. To reiterate the warning of Cone (2016:190), when the government takes on the role of God (able to grant inalienable rights), one government ceases to exist, another begins, and a move towards despotism is in sight. In this regard, Cronje’s (2018) analysis is quite right:
What South Africa’s farmers face today is therefore not about poverty, or public pressure, or even land itself. They have been swept up in a far deeper political and ideological conflict, the battle of ideas, over whether South Africa will survive as a modern, free, and open society or whether it will sink into a socialist and later communist morass of poverty, oppression, and state control. It is a battle for the survival of the Judeo-Christian ethic in southern Africa. And what happens to farmers is very much the litmus test of who will win that battle – meaning, and given what is at stake for the whole country, that in many respects all South Africans are commercial farmers today.
If the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom is the fear of the LORD — and it is — then the atheistic presuppositions of Marxism/Leninism are immediately laid bare. By not even acknowledging God, atheists cannot accurately discern what is really happening in history. Marxism/Leninism can also not accurately discern the problem that humans have: We all have fallen short of the glory of God; ‘in Adam’, we all have a fallen human nature. Better to start with these Biblical facts and to build a structure of government that disperses power across various branches of government, not consolidate it. Governments should be limited in scope, exist to protect basic rights from domestic and foreign threats — but not to think of itself as a ‘god’ who provides more and more rights.
The world is moving towards the Day of the LORD. That day will include first a 7-year period of unparalleled death and destruction. During this Tribulation Period, the antichrist will rule as an absolute despot over the world. A global world order, be it under 10 kings or under the antichrist, requires a level of control that is trans-national, supra-regional, if not global. How may this Satanic agenda be achieved? By attacking the basic building blocks of nations: break down physical borders (or simply open them), destroy national languages, devour national governments, trample upon national cultures, maybe even war against national currencies too. Divine institutions like marriage and family are also under attack. These trends are ongoing, it should be resisted — and perhaps it will be resisted here and there — but nevertheless the Bible is clear how the end-time scenario looks. How will these ‘national voids’ be filled? By a ‘global culture’, trans-national governments, and a global religious system (think ‘world churches’; ‘spirituality’ with no regard to the ‘spirit’ being worshipped; and ‘shared human values’ as defined by a fallen world). In other words, at the end of this age, like it or not, trans-nationalism and/or globalism will prevail.
Marxism/Leninism is alive and well, and yet, given a bit of time, it will most certainly collapse and die. As day follows night, the Day of the LORD also brings blessing. Immediately after the Tribulation Period, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to set up the Messianic kingdom on earth. The form of the government of the Messianic kingdom will be monarchical, because all functions of government (and of worship) will be centred in the perfect God who also took on human nature, the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us (Isa 33:22, my emphasis). The Messiah shall not only judge between the nations, but out of Zion shall go forth the law, and He shall rule as King on the throne of David over his kingdom — and of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end (Isa 2:3-4; 9:7).
This does not mean the King is going to do everything (although He is perfectly able to, because He is omnipotent), but rather that He will be the infinitely wise and good directing head and final authority of all government, securing not only peace and righteousness but also holiness, morality, beauty, justice, mercy, tenderness and truth. Those who have believed the gospel of Christ, who have been born of water and Spirit, will enter this kingdom (cf. John 3:3, 5). I can’t wait for that day.
Originally published at FaithEquip.org.
Cone, C., 2016, Applied Biblical Worldview: Essays on Christian Ethics, Exegetica Publishing, Fort Worth.
Cronje, F., 7 August 2018, ‘Avoiding the Abyss’, viewed on 1 September 2018, from www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/escaping-the-abyss
Daniels, N., 27 March 2018, ‘Mantashe: Land expropriation will deal with greedy farmers first’, Jacaranda FM, viewed on 1 September 2018, from www.jacarandafm.com/news/news/mantashe-land-expropriation-will-deal-greedy-farmers-first/
FaithEquip, 2018, ‘The Government in the Messianic Kingdom’, viewed on 1 September, from https://faithequip.org/government-in-the-messianic-kingdom
Foster, G., 2012, Zuma says: ‘As Minority You Have Less Rights’, SA Promo Magazine, viewed on 1 September 2018, from www.sapromo.com/zuma-says-as-minority-you-have-less-rights/881
Lenin, V.I., 1978, Complete Collected Works, 45 vols, Progress Publishers, Moscow.
Magashule, A., 22 July 2018, Closing plenary session of the 13th Provincial Conference of the ANC Gauteng Province, viewed on 1 September 2018, from www.anc.org.za/content/political-input-secretary-general-anc-cde-ace-magashule-during-occasion-closing-plenary
Marx, K., & Engels, F., 1967, The Communist Manifesto, Penguin Books, New York.
Noebel, D.A., 2006, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (2nd Revised Edition), Summit Press, Manitou Springs.
Woods, A., 2018, Ever Reforming: Dispensational Theology and the Completion of the Protestant Reformation, Dispensational Publishing House, Taos. (e-Book edition)