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.