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Marx, Christ and You   

Donald DeMarco

When Karl Marx's housekeeper bore him a son three months after his wife gave birth to their fourth child, his first thought was his reputation.

Karl Marx

In what biographer Francis Wheen refers to as "one of the first and most successful cover-ups for the greater good of the Communist cause," Marx managed to get his close friend, Friedrich Engels, to take the blame, and the woman to give up her 5-week-old infant for adoption.

Apart from what this incident tells us about Karl Marx, the man, it also reveals some disturbing features of the Marxist legacy that continue to haunt us: denial of personal guilt, blaming others, identifying oneself in relation to an abstract category. It was crucial, from Marx's point of view, for people to regard him as an innocent member of the working class who was oppressed by the ruling class. The fact that Marx hardly worked a day in his life, ignored his children and was supported largely by the kindness and generosity of others is beside the point. His whole life, as well as his ideology, was a carefully orchestrated cover-up.

The arbitrary postulates of pseudo-innocence, projection of guilt onto others and dissolution of personal identity are all evident in the words that open the first section of that joint effort of Marx and Engels, their Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now, hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

History's clash

Marx and Engels viewed history as a clash between classes. Invariably, one class is the oppressed, while the one with which it clashes is the oppressor. The former is presumed innocent; the latter, guilt-ridden. The individual does not function as a person, but is absorbed into one class or the other. The class, or the category, has primacy over the person. The oppressed class is justified in revolting against its oppressor and thereby liberating itself from the chains of virtual slavery.

The ideology that Marx and Engels concocted has the arbitrariness of a board game and the simplicity of an animated cartoon. It is an ideology, therefore, rather than a philosophy. It does not reflect reality as much as it goads people to action. And yet it has no viable concept of a real, individual human being. "The individual human being," wrote Marx, "has no value unless he is a member of the revolutionary masses." In Das Kapital, he wrote: "I speak of individuals insofar as they are personifications of special classes of relations and interests.

Somehow, this simplistic, arbitrary worldview continues to hypnotize people who apply it to an endless array of conflicts. Marxism may be dead in the spear of economics - the "ruling class" and the "working class" are clearly not disjunctive categories; the fact that many workers are now entitled to profit sharing, stock options, union representation, decision-making authority and government intervention is a decisive death-blow to the notion that labor and management are essentially irreconcilable. But it is vitally, energetically alive in a host of other spheres.

During the campus uprisings of the 1960s, rebellious students saw themselves as oppressed by the evil "military-industrial complex." "Military intelligence" was viewed as a contradiction in terms. Police became symbols of right-wing, oppressive authority. The students, who identified themselves as courageous revolutionaries, labeled them "pigs."

Herbert Marcuse brought his Marxist thinking to the fray and advised "intolerance against movements from the right and toleration of movements from the left." The "New Left' was simply an Old Marxism. The notions of "left." and "right" were cardboard caricatures. Such an obvious double standard was imported directly from Marxist ideology. Having pronounced philosophy dead, Marx advocated social change, even if the change came about through, the instrumentality of violence.

The influence of Marxism on radical feminism was inevitable. Disenchanted women found it irresistible to see all men as oppressors and all women as oppressed. They mandated liberation. But their entrance into the revolution required the dissolution of their own sense of self and the blind acceptance of the fiction that men are the enemy. The conception and the plan were simple.

Their implementation, however, was impossible. Marriage, which represents the unity of man and woman, was an embarrassing contradiction to the feminist cause, and became an object of opprobrium. Simone De Beauvoir, intellectual matriarch of radical feminism, called for the legal revocation of marriage.

If it was not the ruling class oppressing the working class, teachers oppressing students or men oppressing women, it was whites oppressing blacks, parents oppressing children, pioneers oppressing natives, heterosexuals oppressing homosexuals, pro-life advocates oppressing pro-choicers. The Marxist model was being applied to virtually every human tension. Yet this completely unrealistic model is older than Marx and much broader in its implication. It is the intellectual's age-old way of expressing his refusal to heed the commandment to love his neighbor as himself.

The parable of the good Samaritan is both an injunction to love one's neighbor and to avoid viewing people as primarily members of warring categories, such as Levites and Samaritans. Class struggle is not a law of nature; it is a human aberration, as the fundamental feature of the human relationship. Its future is not Utopia, but endless conflict.

Enemy mine?

The concept of neighbor abolishes alienation and installs love, not oppression, as the fundamental feature of the human relationship. The person who seeks to love his neighbor is sensitive to his own faults and unlikely to project them onto his neighbor. He is more inclined to confess his sins rather than to complain incessantly about how he is sinned against. In loving his neighbor, he sees his neighbor as another person. At the same time, as a lover, he becomes acutely aware of his own reality as a person. Communities are built on interpersonal relationships, not on the abolition of the opposition.

Without personal love, people begin to retreat from each other. But, in the process, they retreat from themselves as well. The result is the location of themselves in a category and the location of others in one that is its alien. A neighbor becomes an enemy. This model cannot be one of liberation. Indeed, because it denies personality and love, it diminishes and confines people to abstract categories. It depersonalizes and enrages. It cannot be the path to fulfillment and peace.

In the last chapter of The Acting Person, Karol Wojtyla (now John Paul II) writes: "Man's alienation from other men stems from a disregard for, or a neglect of, that depth of participation which is indicated in the term 'neighbor' and by the neglect of the interrelations and inter-subordinations of men in their humanness expressed by this term, which indicates the most fundamental principle of any real community."

The notion of "neighbor" invites each person to recognize in himself a depth of realism that inclines and urges him to participate in the life of other human beings. This is the only foundation for self-realization and authentic human relations. And it is the only foundation for true community and culture. It is easier and more convenient to deny personal guilt, project it onto another and establish a war between arbitrarily constructed categories. This is attested to by the fact of its sheer popularity. There is, however, neither depth nor realism in this approach. Marxism is rooted in a rejection of the commandment to love neighbor and self. It is not in the least surprising that Marx and his associates were atheists.

Contemporary liberal society claims that it is opposed to prejudice, discrimination, censorship, double standards and stereotypes. Yet, by ignoring the fundamental obligation to love one's neighbor, it ultimately comes to embrace the very evils it allegedly deplores. Love of neighbor is at the heart of life, community and culture. This is not an unrealizable ideal, but an uncompromisable reality.

Marxism, together with its countless modifications, misses the meaning of neighbor. But a society without neighbors is merely an assortment of solitudes. Love of neighbor and self brings light and warmth to an otherwise cold and colorless world. Nothing is more practical than love. Nothing is more destructive than hate.


Donald DeMarco. "Marx, Christ and You." National Catholic Register. (October 22-28, 2000).

Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.


Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright 2000 National Catholic Register



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