David Marshall: “Where Did Marx Go Wrong?”

In David Marshall’s Jesus and the Religions of Man, I read Chapter 3: “Where Did Marx Go Wrong?”

Overall, I liked this chapter, for, while it overlapped with the typical right-wing rhetoric about Communism that I have heard and read over the years, it also diverged from it, in areas.  What gets on my nerves with how the right-wing addresses Communism is that the right-wing often appeals to the selfishness of human nature to argue that Communism will not work, and yet it does not even remotely consider that the selfishness of human nature makes laissez-faire (or any other kind of) capitalism a faulty system, as well.  After all, was not Karl Marx standing against the selfishness of human nature when he pointed out how capitalism dehumanizes workers and how societies seek to serve the interests of the upper classes?  Were not Lenin and Trotsky rebelling against corrupt human nature when they overthrew systems that were tyrannizing and exploiting the masses?  Moreover, and I speak here with my John Bircher background in mind, elements of the right-wing have frequently sought to kill reform by saying that having the government try to solve problems is socialism, and, of course, the next step from socialism is Communism.  Or so they tell us.  Actually, there have been plenty of anti-Communist socialists throughout history.  George Orwell was not exactly a libertarian!  And regions such as Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, etc., have some form of universal health care, and they do not resemble Communist regimes.

Marshall acknowledges that Communism was rebelling against real problems, and that some of the prominent figures of Communism were brave people of modest background who brought about reforms (i.e., health care for the masses).  But there were serious downsides to Communism, as Marshall and so many other people know, such as its brutality, its inefficiency, its totalitarianism, etc.  Marshall argues that human nature made Communism a failure, but he admits that “The human weakness responsible for the Gulag is something common to capitalists, Zen Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Baptists” (page 57).  The problem, for Marshall, was that Communist thinkers considered themselves to be gods as well as subordinated morality to what they desired.

My favorite passage in Marshall’s chapter is on page 56:

“Undoubtedly it takes a person with more than the average quota of chutzpah to suppose he can take over from a functioning government and make things run better.  American politicians are hardly known for their humility, either.  Yet the essential sanity of the divine calling that social revolutionaries who operated within the Tao, such as Gandhi, Confucius, Wilberforce and Aquino seemed to feel, was validated by other aspects of their personalities, such as self-forgetfulness and curiosity, a willingness to learn and an awareness of limits.  Such humble qualities seem utterly foreign to religious revolutionaries like Lenin, Mao, Hong Xiuquan, Adolf Hitler, or Jim Jones; men who could never get enough of themselves.  They littered the squares of their cities with statues, like an invading army of patriarchal gray giants.”

I have three points in response to this.  First, when Marshall said that “American politicians are hardly known for their humility, either”, I thought of Newt Gingrich!  Second, I’d add Nelson Mandela to the list of humble social revolutionaries who operated within the Tao, for Mandela tried to do the right thing for whites and blacks in South Africa, as he sought a path or reconciliation.  And, third, I think that Marshall’s overall point in that passage is good because it shows that a society does not have to be repressive in order to bring about reform.  In my opinion, a reason that so many Communist societies were brutal was that they were afraid that the rich and influential people they had ousted would not let go of their power easily, but rather would seek to overturn the progress that the Communist societies were seeking to effect for the masses.  But, as Marshall points out, there were reformers (such as the ones Marshall names: Aquino, Gandhi, etc.) who brought about good without brutality and repression, and so it can be done.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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4 Responses to David Marshall: “Where Did Marx Go Wrong?”

  1. gabo says:

    It’s curious the expresion “to operate within the Tao”. Maybe it’s a metaphore, cos there are certain important differences between the concept of Tao and the concept of God (I mean, philosophically). However, there are, also important points in which they approach each other:
    Humilty, for instance. Also, the fact they are inherently peaceful. I mean, they work through peace and not through violence. If you read the Tao Te Ching, complex as it is, I think you’ll be able to feel that it constantly tells you that violence against anything ends up being violence against Tao itself, and so it’s contraproductive. And Matthew 5:38-42, on the other hand, difficult as it is to understand, agrees amazingly with this interpratation of Tao.

    Regarding communism: it’s anti-taoist and anti-christian, cos it tends to be violent. Of course, it tends to lack humilty too. And many communists turned fearful. Le me extrapolate here your post about Castro. Why Castro allied with U.S. enemies? I’d say: cos he was fearful. But inspite of this violent attitude from Cuba, I’d like to say something in defense of Castro: at least, if you compare him with other communist leaders form Russia, China, or others, Castro’s fears never turned so directly against cuban citizens themeselves. There has been repression in Cuba, yes, I’m far from deny it. But it can’t be compared with the brutalities that took place in Russia or China. That might help us understand why communism in Cuba has survived longer in with less changes than those in other parts of the world. Cos Castro might have really violent, but he was not brutal. Instead, Hitler for instance has been one of the most brutal leaders, and his power did not last long.

    What ar my conclusions? the most violent you are, the most anti-taoist/anti-christian you are, and usually, and the more it tends to be counterproductive.

    But then, what about capitalism? Is this a really peaceful system? Can a system be really peaceful whe it’s based in human selfishness? I’m not sure. Actually, if you analize some things about capitalism history (I mean, it’s history as whole, not just it’s recent, local history), you’ll find a great deal of violence. But capitalism survives and seems very succesful today, isn’t it? Well, I’d answer that the point here, is that our societies are not just based in a selfishness capitalism. There are also good things in our societies: democracy, for instance. Should we change our societies? I wouldn’t say that. Should we improve them? of course! as much as we can, cos I think they are far from being perfect…

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  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Those are good points, Gabo.

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  3. gabo says:

    Thx. It has been interesting to read some of your posts (:

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  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for reading them, Gabo, and I appreciate your comments!

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