Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Most Insightful Criticism of Communism

I read this about a month ago on wikipedia and thought it was brilliant. It's from the Dali Llama:

I think the major flaw of the Marxist regimes is that they have placed too much emphasis on the need to destroy the ruling class, on class struggle, and this causes them to encourage hatred and to neglect compassion. Although their initial aim might have been to serve the cause of the majority, when they try to implement it all their energy is deflected into destructive activities. Once the revolution is over and the ruling class is destroyed, there is nor much left to offer the people; at this point the entire country is impoverished and unfortunately it is almost as if the initial aim were to become poor. I think that this is due to the lack of human solidarity and compassion. The principal disadvantage of such a regime is the insistence placed on hatred to the detriment of compassion.

original source

While most critics will cite the loss of incentive as the principle problem with communism since everyone would ideally get the same amount of goods and services, which I think is a good point, I think this criticism goes further to the heart of the problem.

The Dali Llama for this reason considers himself a half Marxist. He, like most communists doesn't believe that the governments that champion Marxism really represent the system. According to him, though the implementation of Marxism has often been a disaster, Marxism itself is founded upon moral principles of equality while capitalism is based upon personal gain.

I think both systems can fail for the same reason. They both treat the human situation as primarily economic. Capitalism only works best when you have good people who will use their resources not just for themselves but for others and for the long term good. But Marxism cannot be good thoroughly as it is a godless system.

Reflecting on the Dali Llama's comment, it seems to me that Marxism has worked out as an affront to humanity itself as it flies in the face of the most important goals for humans. It stands as an outright perversion of the second greatest commandment to love one's neighbor, where in Marxism we are called to love 9 out of 10 of our neighbors (in a materialistic way) but to hate that one in 10 who has more than the others and take his possessions by force to distribute to everyone else. Of course it is explicitly Godless as well which is an affront to the most important commandment.

Of course some people see the economics of the early church as communistic. For one, they forget that communism is an explicitly Godless system, so that identification will never work out. But scripture as a whole and even the new testament more specifically doesn't completely fit these descriptions of communism nor capitalism. There is an instance in acts where many in the early church held goods in common, but at the same time, there were other churches where Paul encouraged those who were able to support widows to do so thus the church would be able to use its resources in other ways. Clearly the implication is that people had funds that were their own.

The point here is taking care of one's neighbors, but there's no way to do that set in stone.

But what else could we say of scriptural economics. On the one hand, there is the parable of the vineyard owner who paid everyone a denarius no matter when they came to work demonstrating that the vineyard owner paid each according to their need. Of course it is emphasized that the owner and workers freely entered this relationship. On the other, the parable of the talents shows a king who rewards hard work by giving more power to the most successful servants. And there were those churches were people held goods in common. What we have here is meritocracy, rulership by the most competent and most successful and privatized socialism. No majority put it to a vote to force the wealthy to give up their wealth and there certainly was no bloody revolution. We do not see nameless faceless bureaucracies doling out checks and food stamps to people with no relationship of gratitude. People of their own free will and their own resources took care of each other.


Christian Apologist said...

The main problem with communism is that it does not take into account the human condition. In our natural state human beings dont care about anyone but themselves. While the communist manifesto may seem to have all the best intentions of helping the poor it fails utterly because people do not help each other out if they dont love each other. That is why the 'communist' themes we see in acts worked. The heart of the believers were transformed by the love of Christ and they had compassion on their fellow man. One of the reasons the Chinese communist regime hasn't collapsed under its own weight like the Soviets was that China kept its traditional meritocracy system somewhat in place.

Rob R said...

I recently saw an interesting documentary on hippies and there was a portion on commune living. It was pretty interesting. So here, unlike the Marxist regimes, you have an example of privitized socialism, where everyone freely entered this community of sharing of their own free will. But most if not all of these communes didn't last. Human personalities got in the way and people got fed up with each other. Of course the principle of sharing everything including one's sexual partner is no doubt a tremendous poison. Drugs no doubt didn't help. But it does go to show that the human problem is not just an economic one and contrary to Marx, it is not even primarily our problem.

Although we Americans and westerners in general have taken individualism to an unhealthy extreme, I do think the communes expirement illustrated that good fences do make good neighbors. a degree of autonomy and independence is a good thing and how we treat material things and places is an extension of that autonomy.

Yankee Doodle said...

"If a man will not work, he shall not eat." ---2 Thessalonians 3:10

What do you think about this verse?

Rob R said...

In the context, it's not clear that this was a general rule and an absolute for everyone. Paul is speaking specifically to Christians and he makes the connection between their faith and the need to be productive in their practical labors. If you think about it, these were Christians taking advantage of the efforts of other Christians.

While I think this may be illustrative of the principle that we shouldn't insulate people from the consequences of excessive laziness, I don't think Paul meant this to be applied against ministries that for example feed the poor.

The principle is illustrative though that the economics of God's kingdom don't work with laziness.

Yankee Doodle said...

Interesting that Soviet Union adopted it as its motto.

steve said...

"If a man will not work, he shall not eat." ---2 Thessalonians 3:10

what if the man CANT find work because all the possible jobs he could do, or that he has training to do have been shipped overseas or shut down because of shortsighted policies and greed? There's only so many jobs in any given area. I'm not saying that communism, or even socialism is the answer, all that I'm saying is that we need the government to fulfill the role of "referee". Which means some regulation, some directing with tax policy ect... That's where economic conservatism fails - it is completely skewed toward capital (greed). And you know what Jesus said about a rich man and heaven? If anything, the last 8 years have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that capitalism NEEDS a referee and direction in order for it to thrive. The democrats don't want "communism" or "socialism" like your pundits have brainwashed you into believing. We just want capitalism to work like Adam Smith envisioned. After all, the "free hand" is connected to an arm, controlled by a brain.

Yankee Doodle said...

Hmm... Karl Marx couldn't say it better.

steve said...


For the sake of arguement, let's say I was a Marxist. In your oppinion, is that good, or bad? and why is it good or bad? How is Capitalism superior to Marxism as a means of social organization? Is there any possible compromise between Capitalims and Marxism?

steve said...

... I was also thinking that YOU are much more of a Marxist than I am my little red friend. I work over 40 hours per week and pay every last cent of my college tuition.. Your blog states that you are a PUBLIC SCHOOL student comrade. Hows it feel getting an education on the public dole Mr. Pinko?

Rob R said...

Okay boys, lets keep it clean and fair.

Steve, I think government can help but I sympathize with most conservatives that well intentioned government regulation can sometimes harm productivity which strains the economy and only creates more situations like your hypothetical worker instead of solving it. But we can have wise regulation, it happens. NEvertheless, the idea is that the persons who are best capable of regulating a business for the benefit of workers and maximal production are the ones who are most intimately involved, that is the company administrators (and of course, intimate involvement means that there is good communications with the workers as well). Regulations from afar have the potential to miss the subtleties and attention to detail that makes business run smoothly and can throw a wrench into the works. Again, I'm not saying there isn't a place for it, but I'm pointing out why we can't expect government to fix all economic problems and inequities effectively. The responsiblity and power to make businesses work rely not in the distant bureaucrats hands but with the workers and employers. The problem with that is free will. Employers will abuse their powers, workers will do poor work, strike and so on. There is no cure for free will and to reduce it's risk can have a heavy cost. Or at least, that's my theory.

But there is an answer and that is for individuals to collectively choose to do what is best for the whole and for those same individuals to choose .

So what about your hypothetical worker and 2nd Thesselonians 3:10?" Recall the context I pointed out, it was spoken not to disabled people nor someone who lost their job. It was spoken to Christians taking advantage of the generosity of other Christians. I have heard it suggested that some of these Christians just didn't work because they were waiting for Christ to return. If this is correct, Paul points out that this was the wrong way to wait and prepare for the return of Christ in this unchristian manner.

So what about your worker? Presuming he isn't disabled to the point where he can't do anything productive, is out trying to get other jobs or is he sitting on the couch moping about it? So then if he's working on that or can only manage getting a job that will get him by, what about his support structure? What about his church and his family and friends? He may have to sacrifice and may have to depend alot upon them, and supposedly, this is a shame. But I don't think it is, especially if he is following Paul's lead to be productive, to help out where he can. If he's getting help from some one, there's a floor out there to be swept, a lawn to be mowed, kids to be watched, and so on. there is always something out there to do and no matter how menial it is, if it is in return for kindness, it is honerable. And what about the man without family or friends who could or would help him out? The fact is, that is a far greater poverty that no government can fix.

Now lets consider another irony. You would advocate that some poor neighbor should get help from our democratic government. Well, most likely, in our democracy, if that's going to happen, it's because the majority of voters placed a bearucrat there to carry this out. But if the majority of a nation cares about this person, then they could help him out with the individual attention that he needs. Why elect someone from afar to do it when a personal touch may be better. Of course organizations and wise persons are often needed to because one mans predicament may be too much for the informal care of friends when a person needs serious spiritual and psychological help. So this is a good function for the church.

Do churches always function this way? Not often enough, but of course you would say that the government needs to do something that it isn't doing or doing well and I'm saying that the church needs to be doing something that it isn't always doing well. So there is always a need for change, but we differ on where it needs to be.


That is interesting about the soviet Union, but it makes sense that they would have such a slogan. Who would work in the old USSR if not compelled since you have a gauranteed wage even if you do crappy labor. (You do mean the old USSR right and not modern Russia 'cause I can see it either way. Both new Russia and Old Russia could see something in that verse) It's interesting food for thought and I'm always glad to see your contribution here. I'd request that you respect the other contributions here though and if you respond to them, if there is something worthy of treating serious, then give it serious thought. Steve's concerns deserved more than a label and they are worthy of thoughtful discussion even if you disagree with him. I think the the things you write are impressive for your age and I expect you will be very good at this, but you can do better in this respect. If you disagree with something and you cannot think of a response, it is acceptable to admit that you don't know and it is also fine to remain silent.