Was Karl Marx Right?


 The Reverend Mr. Mahaffy has served since 1945 as a missionary of the Orthodox Presby­terian Church in Eritrea, East Africa.

In all the history of mankind few individuals have had as wide­spread influence as has Karl Marx. Recently I talked to a school boy in Africa who knew nothing of economics, but he had been taught and firmly believed that Karl Marx was one of the very greatest of all men. Half the world is under the domination of governments that profess to be founded upon principles he taught. Even in our own land multitudes of intellectu­als openly or secretly support the philosophy he promulgated. A large group within the Christian Church advocates adoption of the basic principles which he expounded. Huge labor organizations press continually for the advance of so­cialism. Legislators join hands with labor, business, and religious groups to put into effect his basic principles. Even among evangelical Christians many seek a furthering of his views. Some, while opposed to his system, seek a system which at best is a compromise with it.

Others who oppose communism and its principles fail to under­stand the basic error of Marxian­ism and while they oppose it in fact, have failed to get at the root of the problem.

Karl Marx himself professed to hate religion, to be the enemy of Christianity. He described religion as the "opium of the people." Yet, in spite of this fact, actually he be­came the founder and head of a great religion. Marx’s material­istic, evolutionary socialism in which socialism is conceived of as the natural result of an evolution­ary process, preceded by the col­lapse of capitalism brought about by its own inherent weaknesses, was soon to be replaced in the sys­tem of his followers by a view that chose socialism as an ethical im­perative. The views of Marx and his followers have been accepted with religious fervor by multi­tudes. Marx has been looked upon as a savior by masses of people. His followers often become the most fanatic zealots in advancing his ideals. Like the Moslems in their holy wars, the followers of Marx often seem eager to give their lives to defend and to pro­mote this new religion. Even those who reject his evolutionary and atheistic materialism accept as valid the ethical socialism of his followers.

The Christian Church has been all too remiss in meeting the at­tacks of this new and vast enemy of Christianity. The Church by and large has failed to recognize the true nature of socialism-com­munism and thus has refused to attack its basic ideas, Some have felt the discussion lay in the realm of politics and economics which is not the work of the Church. Since the sphere of the Church’s work is that of the spirit, she has excused herself from meeting Marx’s at­tacks at the very roots of her faith. Others, denying the validity of Marx’s atheistic materialism and failing to see that this is the foundation of his system, have felt that much of his teachings could be fitted into a Christian frame­work. Hence, we find Marxianism actually penetrating the teachings of many churches, Christian insti­tutions of education, and many other religious organizations.

However, the fact is that if the basic principles of Karl Marx are correct, the foundation of our faith has been destroyed. If they are wrong, the Church ought to be willing and able to show wherethey are wrong. There are two ways of showing the falsity of the basic principles of socialism. First, for the Christian, appeal may be made to the Bible.

Another method of attacking Marxianism is to show the incon­sistency of his views. For if it can be demonstrated that Karl Marx’s attack on Christianity is an in­valid one, and his own basic prin­ciples wrong and his system incon­sistently built upon them, his whole system will fall to pieces. In the brief compass of this article we shall consider something of so­cialism’s antagonism to Scriptures as well as something of the error in its basic premises.

The Question of "Unearned Income"

At the very heart of the social­istic teaching is the denial of the right to interest, rent, or profits, or to what Marx terms "unearned income." This is the basic moral precept of socialism and one that has been accepted as valid not only by the socialist-communists, but also by many theologians and Christians who profess to oppose communism. Inherent in this de­nial of the right to profits is the denial of the right to private prop­erty. For if in reality a man owns land, money, or a factory, the re­turns from its use are also his own rightful property. There can be no ownership without the right to use the possession as the owner sees fit, except, of course, to harm others.

So Marx and his followers deny the right to private ownership of property. Instead, he says there should be only public or communal ownership of property. Capitalism, he contends, with its belief in pri­vate property and the resulting profits, rents, and interest from this ownership is unjust and an exploitation. The whole system of socialism-communism hinges on this basic principle of the denial of the right to private property. Karl Marx and the socialists con­tend that society must own all property and use it for the benefit of all. They wish to do away with private property and the exploita­tion and injustice that result from its use for profits. The profits from land, factories, and business gen­erally ought to go to society and not to the private owner of the means of production. These profits, Marx contends, are a result of seizing the "surplus value" of the laborer.

"Justice for the Masses"

Many Christians naively accept as right this foundation principle of Marxianism. Are we not all created equal before God? they say. They speak of "justice for the masses" by which they mean that profits ought to be distributed more equally to the masses. They question the morality (though but few personally are willing to carry out their own principles in this respect) of some people enjoying luxuries while others starve for want of the necessities of life. Did not Christ, they argue, speak many words of warning to the rich in this world and even say that few such would enter the kingdom of heaven? Ought not a Christian to "love his neighbor" and to "bear one another’s burdens" and so ful­fill the law of Christ? Is not a com­munal ownership of goods a more just and Christian method of dis­tribution of the wealth of God’s world? Did not even the early Christians practice a communal ownership of goods?

An eminent contemporary theo­logian, Emil Brunner, speaks of capitalism as "unrestrained, un­limited individualism." "Capital­ism is a Moloch which swallows up mankind. It pushes the doctrine of individual freedom to the destruc­tion of justice for the masses." He also says, "Individualism is the philosophy that every man is re­sponsible to himself alone for how he lives and uses his freedom. In­dividualism in the family spells divorce and juvenile delinquency; in economics, laissez-faire capital­ism; in the state, anarchy." "The total state is the product of and reaction against the anarchy of radical liberalism. Both deny the authority of God and despise his ordinances."¹

But capitalism cannot be de­bunked merely by the use of derog­atory adjectives nor socialism es­tablished by words of praise in its favor. The Bible must furnish the answer for the Christian. Here the answer is unmistaken. The whole Bible assumes the right to private property. The eighth command­ment, "Thou shalt not steal," has no meaning except on the assump­tion of the right to the private ownership of property. In fact, the Ten Commandments provide the norm for Christian conduct, and they require basically that in our relationship with other men we be free except to do evil to or to harm others. Christ in his parable of the pounds approved of interest and its prerequisite, private prop­erty. The parable of the laborers in the field also shows the right of the employer to pay according to the contract freely entered into. The Biblical injunction to charity, generosity, stewardship, demands the private ownership of property. There cannot be the least doubt but what private property is ap­proved by divine revelation. For the Christian this ought to be suf­ficient. No further argument should be necessary. This, of course, is not to say that what God has said is opposed to logic and sound principles. Because this world is controlled by God, its Creator, there is a perfect con­sistency in all of his laws and dealings with men. The results of science that is founded on correct basic principles must coincide with the revealed will of God who made and ordered all things. The Chris­tian position is the only truly ra­tional one.

It can be clearly demonstrated (see the book by the eminent econ­omist, Ludwig von Mises, entitled Socialism, for what is perhaps the best refutation of socialism) that socialism must on the basis of its own principles fail to produce the results claimed for it. In fact, it can result only in chaos.

Society Exists Through Individuals

Socialists say that the means of production ought to be owned by the society. Society, of course, can do nothing except through its arm, the State. But from where does society obtain this right? The only concrete society that exists or may exist must consist of a collection of individuals united for a particu­lar purpose or purposes. Hence, it can possess no authority that has not been derived from the individ­uals in that society. Society can­not exist without the prior existence of the individuals. The authority of a society through its organ, the State, hence can be nothing more than a derived authority. The whole cannot be greater than the sum of its parts. The State can have no authority or power that it has not first re­ceived from the individuals com­posing that society. This is a basic fact entirely overlooked by Karl Marx and the socialists.

Modern socialism has gained popularity not because of any ra­tional demonstration of the prior right of society over the individual but because it claims to offer a greater gain to the individual or at least to a majority of the indi­viduals in that society. It is be­cause of its claim that the laborer as an individual fails to get his "just" share of the wealth and that others who do not work take this share from him that socialism appeals to the masses. It makes its appeal to individuals on the basis of "rights" of which they are be­ing deprived, and yet according to its precepts denies any basic right to the individual and grants it only to society.

Socialism can never be effected without taking from the individu­als that which is theirs and giving it to society or rather to the State. But the very fact that the State takes wealth amassed by individu­als and then redistributes it to in­dividuals (on the basis of some principle of justice never explained in detail) is a recognition of the prior right of the individual over society. Society itself cannot pro­duce or consume goods except as the individuals in that society pro­duce and consume. Anything it takes to redistribute or any ac­tivity in production that it con­trols must thus be original with the individual and not with so­ciety.

In a free society the individual may turn over the power of the sword, the police power, to the State in order that individually he may not have to deal with the problem of defense from violence. But even this power of the State is a derived power and in no sense original. In a coercive society the State may forcefully through its military might seize property and subject people to its power. But certainly the fact that the State forcefully seized property does not justify the act as moral. The prop­erty has been taken by force but it was taken from the original owners.

It is true the Bible states, "The powers that be are ordained of God," but the Bible also restricts this power to the bearing of the sword for the suppression of evil. It by no means implies that the State has any God-given authority to do evil itself or to seize the property of individuals for unjust purposes. It means simply that God has ordained that in this world of sin there should be an or­ganization of individuals in a so­ciety for the purpose of restrain­ing evil.

Ownership: The Right To Use

Ownership, which belongs origi­nally to the individual, involves al­so the right to use according to the desires of the owner as long as that use does not interfere with the same rights of others. Restric­tions on this use such as govern­ment regulations except for the purpose of protecting the same rights of others, is a seizing of a part of the ownership of the prop­erty. A taxing of the profits from free use of this private property, except for what is the proper function of government, also is a form of coercive seizing of wealth. It is a denial of the very basic right to private ownership of prop­erty; it is an acceptance of Marx’s principle that society ought to own the means of production.

Profits are condemned by social­ists as immoral. But actually with­out profits (interest and rent are also in this category, as all are in­come resulting from the economi­cal use of land, money, tools, ma­chinery, and labor) there can be no growing economy. Profits are vital to any economy, socialistic or capitalistic. Without them many of the present large population of the world would starve, for there must be an economical use of the resources in this world, both of material and labor. The price of a product must be greater than the costs of production or the economy will collapse. Even Marx cannot deny the absolute necessity of profits.

The question really revolves about who is to receive the profit—the owner or society. Marx recog­nizes the profit as necessary in a dynamic economy but desires that it go to society rather than the owner. Of course, if profits were really destroyed, the incentive to progress would be curbed, decapi­talization begun, and poverty re­sult. And if profits are dissipated instead of being wisely invested in the tools of production, an increas­ing poverty for all is bound to be the result.

Private Property and Free Exchange

Socialism appeals to the masses because of the natural sinful tendency on the part of man to covetousness and to a lack of un­derstanding of economic facts. Karl Marx writes at great length of the exploitation of labor and the laboring man’s right to the profits resulting to the owner from this labor. It seems ironical that today when about 85 per cent of the cost of making a product goes to labor, the laboring man through coercive unions and legislation is still seeking a greater share of the profits. The right to the fruit of our labor is granted, but this right is no more basic than the right to the fruit of ownership of any other form of property. Our ability to labor, think, or invent is a pri­vate possession; it is our private property. But the fruit of our in­ventions, labor, or savings in prop­erty and the tools of production is equally our private property.

The entrepreneur has the right to purchase freely and at a rate mutually agreeable to and advan­tageous to both, the labor power of an individual who chooses to sell his labor to another rather than use it entirely himself. With­out this selling of labor and the specialization which demands it, there could be no progress or ad­vance in the standard of living such as we have known in our day. Here again the right of private property involves not only the right freely to purchase the fruit of another’s labor at a mutually agreeable price, but also to pur­chase his labor. The only moral restriction involved is the prohibi­tion to harm the person involved. The individual who sells his labor is free to refuse to do the same but rather to reap the fruit of his individual labor for himself. Ob­viously, it is often to his advan­tage to sell his labor to another and both he and the entrepreneur profit. This is the very basis of a free society and besides provides the means for the most rapid progress and general prosperity for all.

The Labor Theory of Value

The value of a product accord­ing to Marx depends on the amount of labor involved. Hence, he says the profit results from "surplus value" of the laborer and should be his rather than the entrepre­neur’s. This theory of Marx has no basis in fact. The value of a product depends upon the view of the buyer. He will pay for it what he subjectively deems it worth to meet his own needs and for his personal satisfaction. If he finds more satisfaction elsewhere, he will refuse to buy and the price must fall, the product be produced cheaper, or the business close. Labor has value as it produces products that satisfy the con­sumer, and hence in a free capi­talist economy it is the consumer ultimately who determines the wage of the laborer and also what is to be produced. By demanding certain things and refusing others under capitalism, labor is shifted from uneconomical enterprises to where it produces products most in demand and hence the value of labor enhanced. This cannot hap­pen under socialism where the State as the arm of society deter­mines what is to be produced and what to be consumed, the wages paid, and the like.

To argue as Marx does that value adheres primarily to labor alone is to deny the obvious fact that property, wealth, and ma­chines play as important a part in profits as does labor. If private property is wrong and all profits ought to be the property of the society, why should the laborer receive the fruit of his labor? Should not his labor also be the property of society and not of himself? Consistency with his basic principles should lead to this conclusion. There can be no effect­ing of socialism which seeks to control the production and dis­tribution of goods apart from a control of labor. But the basic principles of Marx which demand that goods and the means of pro­duction be communally owned ought also to require that what Marx considers the main source of this production, labor power, also be communal property. Unless this element in production is under the direct and absolute control of the State, there can be no socialism. The result of labor itself being the property of the State would be slavery.

Marx, on the other hand, argues that the laborer is not receiving personally all the fruit of his labor under capitalism. Labor power is certainly an important item in production but if socialism were consistent with its principles, it would have to require that this very personal property become the property of society. As a matter of fact, under socialism the State does control the labor power of the individual; it must control his whole life. This is the logical out­working of the views of Karl Marx but by no means stated as such. The mass slave labor in com­munist China today well illustrates the results of a more consistent ap­plication of the principles of so­cialism.

Capital Needed under Any System

The use of the expression "in­come without work" or "unearned income" is misleading. It is a term used to cast a blot on capitalism but this "unearned income" is just as essential to a socialistic society as to a capitalistic one. Produce is the fruit of labor, brains, tools, raw material. No one item is more vital than another. In a simple economy an individual may pro­vide the capital investment of land, a plow, other tools, seed, along with the plans and manual labor and then consume the fruit of his labor himself. In a complex econ­omy working as it must under division of labor, the capital for tools of production is no less im­portant and no less private prop­erty than the labor of the worker. Like the labor, it too is subject to a return, a profit or a loss, to the fruit of its use. This "unearned income" must exist also under so­cialism, for without the use of capital for tools the economy will die.

The problem is not one of un­earned income, of receiving in­come without work as Marx and his followers put it. It is the prob­lem of what to do with this in­come, of what to do for that mat­ter with all property and its in­come. The socialist makes an en­tirely artificial separation of labor from the other elements in produc­tion. Capitalism, consistent with Christianity, says that the fruit of labor or of capital invested in tools, lands, or other property should go to the owners of the same. They are his to spend, in­vest, or use as he deems best as long as by so doing he does not do evil to others. Only thus can the economy expand and the well-be­ing of all be best served. When, instead, this income goes to the State, experience ought to have taught us long ago that much of it will be wasted and decapitalization will set in, resulting in increasing poverty.

Socialism—A False Religion

Socialism stands condemned as opposed to Christianity. It defies the laws of God and hence is bound to result in chaos, war, and pov­erty. Likewise, internally it falls apart, for it is founded upon an unproven false assumption and is full of internal contradiction. It is a false religion. If it succeeds, Christianity will not. But when enough people recognize the fact that its basic principles are in open defiance of God’s law and in­valid, socialism will no longer be the menace to our existence that it is today.

Capitalism, on the other hand, based as it is on the primary right to private ownership of property and its free use without interfer­ence from the State except when its use involves evil and interfer­ence with the same liberty of others, is the system that is in ac­cord with Christianity. It is the system clearly demonstrated to ef­fect the greatest well-being of all, the poor as well as the rich. While this is not to say that capitalism will make men moral—only the power of the Gospel can do that—yet its basic principles serve best in this sinful world for the good of all and are in harmony with Chris­tian ethics which must be the foundation of any stable society.

Foot Notes

‘Quoted from "Emil Brunner’s Social Ethics" by Paul K. Jewett in Nov. 1957 issue of His magazine, pp. 43-44.


August 1959

comments powered by Disqus


* indicates required


November 2014

It's been 40 years since F. A. Hayek received his Nobel Prize. His insights, particularly on the distribution of knowledge and the impossibility of economic planning, remain hugely important today. In this issue, we look back on the influence of his work. Max Borders and Craig Biddle debate whether liberty must be defended from one absolute foundation, further reflections on Scottish secession, and how technology is already changing our world for the better--including how robots, despite the unease they cause, will only accelerate this process.
Download Free PDF