Karl Marx’s Obsession With the Devil

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It’s well known that Communism killed 100 million people — but few are aware of the obsession Communism’s founder Karl Marx had with the Devil.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) is the economist and social theorist whose enduring footprint on the world is the political system known as Communism.

Born in Germany but spending most of his adult life in London, Marx developed his ideas — known collectively as Marxism — primarily in The Communist Manifesto (1848), a book he co-wrote with his friend Friedrich Engels, and Das Kapital (1867–1894).

Marx believed that capitalism — the economic system that held sway across 19th-century Christian Europe — was exploitative and alienating. He was convinced the working class masses (the proletariat) would overthrow it, if only they were awakened to their oppression.

“All that is solid melts into air…” Marx and Engels wrote, waxing apocalyptic in The Communist Manifesto’s opening pages — “and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life.”

Marx heralded the overthrow of the capitalists (the bourgeoisie) and the dawn of a Communist utopia: a classless, stateless society in which land, factories, labour, raw materials and wealth would be shared in common by all of its citizens. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” as Marx put it.

He never lived to see his vision fulfilled. In fact, Marx had misread the social and historical landscape. Europe’s highly industrialised societies simply were not ripe for revolution as he had assumed.

However, many decades after his death, opportunistic radicals in far-flung agrarian lands took hold of his belligerent ideas, and managed to install Communist regimes — first in Russia (1917), then Central Asia (1920s), Eastern Europe (1940s), China (1949), Korea (1950s), Latin America (1950s) and South-East Asia (1960s).

By the time the infamous ‘Century of Communism’ had ended, the ideas unleashed by Marx had led to the deaths of at least 100 million people worldwide, making Communism by far the greatest catastrophe in human history.

Today, five of the world’s 195 nations remain holdouts for Communism (China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba), ensnaring some 1.6 billion people — or more than 20 per cent of the global population — in enduring political repression. And while formerly Soviet states have officially democratised, Communism cast a long, dark shadow over Russia and its erstwhile satellite nations that lingers to this day.

The Devil’s in the Details

Marx’s ideas came with many diabolical flaws, perhaps none so deadly as his naive and unfounded optimism about the perfectibility of man.

If 20th-century Communist experiments taught the world anything, it is that humans, by their very nature, will always seek to oppress one another — most notably at nexus of a revolution, when traditional hierarchies are torn down.

While the devilish fruit of Marxism is visible to anyone with eyes to see it, what many people do not know about Karl Marx is that he had an explicit interest — even preoccupation — with devilry, which had a profound influence on all of his thinking.

Over the years, a number of writers have sought to shed light on Karl Marx’s obsession with the Devil.

The bizarre discovery was first made by Marx’s original biographer Franz Mehring, who was so taken aback by what he found that he advised Marx’s youngest daughter Eleanor to keep the revelation from going public.

Two books that ultimately did make these revelations public were Marx: A Biography (1968) and Marx and Satan (1971), both penned by British intellectual Robert Payne. In 1976, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand added to this catalogue with his popular tome Marx & Satan.

The most recent publication on the topic is The Devil and Karl Marx (2020), written by Paul Kengor, professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Giving the Devil His Due

Following his book’s release, Kengor sat down for a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion on the subject with Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In introducing Kengor and his treatise, Mohler summarises that “even as [Marx] sought in every way possible to kill off God, and even organised religion, he had enormous sympathy for the Devil, and clearly, in some sense, believed in the Devil… he clearly believed in the personification of evil.”

Kengor acknowledges that, as with any writer or poet, so with Marx’s musings on Satan, discerning his precise meaning sometimes involves guesswork: “He’s internalising; he’s projecting; it’s what he believes; it’s what a character believes…” Even so, Kengor notes, Marx’s fixation on this theme is “very reflective of what he believes”.

Kengor opens The Devil and Karl Marx with quotations from two of Marx’s early poems:

“Thus Heaven I’ve forfeited, I know it full well.
My soul, once true to God, Is chosen for Hell.”
The Pale Maiden, 1837

“Look now, my blood-dark sword shall stab
Unerringly within thy soul…
The hellish vapours rise and fill the brain,
Till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed.
See the sword—the Prince of Darkness sold it to me.
For he beats the time and gives the signs.
Ever more boldly I play the dance of death.”
The Player, 1841

“These poems and his plays, they’re filled with destruction, death, suicide pacts,” Kengor explains — before offering a shocking and little-known historical fact: “Marx had two daughters who killed themselves in suicide pacts with their husbands”.

Kengor notes that another theme to emerge in Marx’s plays and poems is that, metaphorically speaking, “Marx wanted to burn down the house.”

“Marx and his characters in the end of these plays, they are standing there in the pit of these embers, flames all around them.”

Indeed, a sombre observation made by multiple Marx biographers is that his favourite quote in all of literature comes from the mouth of Mephistopheles, a demon from German folklore, who in Goethe’s tragedy Faust declares, “Everything that exists deserves to perish.”

“Imagine that,” Kengor exclaims. “That was Marx’s favourite.”

Kengor also highlights the striking parallel between Karl Marx and one of his many ideological successors, activist and community organiser Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), who likewise lived with a fist raised to heaven. Alinsky infamously dedicated his manifesto Rules for Radicals (1971) to “the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer”.

The Devil You Know

Karl Marx’s parents were Jewish, however his father Heinrich converted to a liberal brand of Lutheranism, mostly for social convenience and career mobility, in an era in Germany rife with antisemitism.

Even so, Kengor explains, in letters to his then-teenaged son, Heinrich urged Karl to become religious so that he had something to believe in other than himself.

“I quote at length this ominous letter, March 2nd, 1837, from his father,” Kengor explains, paraphrasing: “That heart of yours, son, what’s troubling it? Is it governed by a demon? Is it governed by a spirit? And is that spirit heavenly or is it Faustian?”

Kengor and Mohler agree that throughout his adult years, Karl Marx’s life was marked by a deep misanthropy — a hatred for humanity.

“He’s calling for humanity to unite in this Communist movement,” Mohler remarks, drawing out the irony — “but he hates humanity, and it began with his own family.”

Marx was “a very angry man,” Kengor concurs. “All the people around him couldn’t stand him. And Engels was one of the only people that was really able to hang in there with him at all.”

Kengor explains that Marx funded his writing career by draining the financial resources of his parents until “they finally cut him off and then it was left to Engels to subsidise him”.

“Engels felt bad for Marx’s family,” Kengor reflects. “Marx refused to get a job. He refused to work. Marx’s poor, long-suffering wife, Jenny… expressed the wish that Karl would start earning some capital rather than just writing about capital.”

“Children in the Marx household died, arguably, from malnutrition — exposure to the elements”.

Dancing with the Devil

A significant and “toxic, pernicious” influence on Karl Marx during his formative years, Kengor notes, was his doctoral advisor Bruno Bauer. Bauer was a theology professor and, rather ironically, an atheist — which was not an entirely impossible combination given the waywardness of 19th-century German Protestantism.

The pair began plans for a journal called Atheistic Archives, which never came to fruition. Kengor shares that on one particular Palm Sunday, Bauer and Marx rode into a German village on donkeys, mocking Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. They also scandalised their class by getting drunk and disrupting a church service.

Far from being mere footnotes in the biography of Karl Marx, Kengor and Mohler agree these devilish antics are emblematic of the West’s loss of meaning and spiritual fortitude over subsequent centuries.

Germany in the 1800s “is where biblical criticism was born,” Mohler remarks. “This is where [Friedrich] Schleiermacher, the father of liberal theology… [reduces] the essence of Christianity to experience and feeling and utter subjectivity”.

“By the time you get to the early decades of the 20th century, it’s already clear that for many, German Protestantism has become largely cultural Protestantism,” Mohler adds. “There’s no binding theology.”

He observes that “what’s referred to as theology isn’t actually theology in any legitimate sense at all”.

Kengor and Mohler concur that, while it is increasingly common today for people to try and marry Christianity with various forms of Marxism, Socialism or Communism, these are unholy and ultimately impossible unions.

“Like Marx said, Communism begins where atheism begins,” Kungor warns.

Mohler corroborates: “Atheism was not a factor in Marxist thought. Atheism is the a priori — because if there is any ontological God, then you cannot have the worldview of Marxism.”

“And I think that’s what so many Americans, young and old, frankly, just don’t recognise.”

The Devil’s Advocate

The discussion between Paul Kengor and Albert Mohler closes with some sober reflections on Marxism’s tentacles in the 21st century.

Kengor refers to one of the closing lines in The Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels state that “their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”.

Thus, they observe, true Marxism is not merely about economics, but all of society.

“They realised that you had to take out God,” Kengor explains. “You had to remove God.”

“Once you raze that foundation… then you can stand there like Marx did in the embers of that burnt-down house with your fist in the air, [declaring], ‘Everything that exists deserves to perish.’ And now we can begin our world anew.”

“They knew that you had to abolish not just property, not just capital, not just the family — you needed to abolish religion as well,” Kengor concludes.

Kengor and Mohler affirm that Critical Theory — which they agree is “the more academic term for Cultural Marxism” — is the direct descendant and present-day manifestation of Marx’s ideas.

“When you really look at a lot of these Marxists, especially the neo-Marxists, the modern-day Marxists, you find out that they, like Karl Marx, are all about criticising,” Kengor quips.

Mohler further clarifies: “What is meant by criticism here is intellectual destruction and subversion. It’s not criticism that X or Y could be improved. It’s that Western Civilisation is nothing more than a titanic project of human oppression.”

Kengor ends the discussion highlighting a quote often attributed to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan: “A Communist is somebody who reads Marx. An anti-Communist is someone who understands Marx.”

He then reflects, “I hear young people say, ‘Communism’s a pretty good idea if you just read it.’ They haven’t read it. They haven’t read it because if they did, they’d reject it.”

To which Mohler adds, “And they certainly haven’t read the history of its attempted application. Because Marxism has worked precisely nowhere any time.”

“It’s skeletons everywhere you look.”

Watch the full discussion here.

This article is reprinted from The Daily Declaration with permission.

Image credit: public domain