Communicating Christ in a Multicultural World
17. Marxism and Communism

Lesson Objectives

To understand the key elements Marxism and Communism, and how to reach followers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Atheistic communism is a political and economic system that has become one of the most powerful forces in the world. It shaped history from the early 1900s to the 1990s. Hundreds of millions are under its sway, including in China. Christians need to understand how to approach communists with the Gospel, the power of God that is able to transform individuals and societies in a way communism cannot.

What is Communism?

The word communism comes from the Latin communis, which means "common" or "belonging to all". Today it has several meanings; it can be:

Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin

Developed by Lenin (1870-1924) and others, based on writings by Karl Marx (1818-1883). Marx was a German social philosopher in the 1800s; Lenin was a Russian revolutionary leader of the early 1900s. Philosophers and reformers long supported ideals such as community ownership and equality of work and profit. Marx transformed these into a revolutionary movement.

Marx's ideas were first expressed in the Communist Manifesto (1848), a pamphlet he wrote with Friedrich Engels, a German economist. Marx believed the only way to ensure the creation of a happy, harmonious society was to put the workers in control. Marx assumed the ruling class would never willingly give up power, so struggle and violence were inevitable if society was to change.

"The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!

Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto was first published in 1848

The terms "communism" and "socialism" are frequently confused. Communists usually refer to their beliefs and goals as "socialist." But socialists do not necessarily consider themselves Communists. Communists and socialists both seek public ownership or regulation of the principal means of production, distribution and exchange. ("Man must eat to live; change will come about of economic necessity; society needs to be ordered around the means of production, etc.") But most socialists favour peaceful and legal methods to achieve their goals, while Communists often use force. Socialism may or may not be based on the teachings of Marx. Communism is based on the teachings of both Marx and Lenin.

Why Study Communism?

Communism is about more than economics and politics; it is a world view with religious characteristics:

Marx was a philosopher, not a revolutionary. He did not transform his society, but his ideas have influenced hundreds of millions around the world, who consider him their spiritual father.

Communism in the 20th Century - Brief Overview

Instability after World War Il saw Communist gains in many countries. In 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact promising not to attack each other. In 1939 and 1940, the Soviet Union took over Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and parts of Poland, Finland, and Romania. All of this territory became part of the Soviet Union.

Toward the end of the war, the Soviet Union helped free many countries from German and Japanese control. Soviet troops enabled the establishment of Communist-controlled governments in several of these countries, including Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and North Korea. Other countries, such as Czechoslovakia, followed later.

After World War Il, civil war broke out in China between the Communists and the Nationalists. By 1949, the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, had taken over mainland China.

Communism poses as a movement of the people and by the people, but it is essential a political power movement.

In Latin America (eg Nicaragua), Marxism was adopted by elements in the dominant Roman Catholic church, and found expression in so-called "Liberation Theology". All too often, Marxists were the only ones working to relieve inequality and suffering in what were still feudal Latin American societies. Liberation Theologians claim their continent has been victimized by colonialism, imperialism (especially US-based) and multi-national corporations, and that the Biblical models in the Old Testament and Jesus' concern for the poor and outcast (solidarity with the oppressed against the oppressor), combined with Marxist ideas of ongoing class struggle, justifies a secular struggle for liberation. Their model has been adopted by other liberation movements in the so-called "Third World". The main Marxist stronghold in Latin America is Cuba

Liberation Theology blends the Bible and Marxism
The Communist Party of Australia was active until the early 1990s

Communism has varied from one country to another. However, some basic features are shared by most Communist societies:

Marx believed that in a Communist society, the powers of the state - and eventually the state itself - would gradually disappear. But no Communist country ever eliminated the state. In practice, communists believed they had to be defended from capitalist influences from other countries. Therefore, secret police as well as regular police forces and a strong military establishment would be needed until Communism had been attained worldwide. Personal rights would always be subsumed by the greater needs of society.

By the late 1980s, most Communist countries had experienced long periods of little or no economic growth. Centralized planning proved to be inefficient and hindered the development of new technologies. As a result, Communist countries could not compete economically with non-Communist industrial powers. Many subsequently abandoned communism. Of those that have not, some are economic "basket cases" (eg North Korea. Cuba). In China only an opening up of the economy has ensured growth.

Marxism versus Christianity

DisciplineMarxismBiblical Christianity

Marx was an atheist before he became a communist.

Engels and Lenin agreed that religion was a "drug" or "spiritual booze:" and must be combated. To them, practicing atheism would mean a "forcible overthrow of all existing conditions", including the economy, government, law, etc. Communist Parties have generally not deviated from their founding fathers' attitudes towards God or religion, which explains the persecution of the church in communist-dominated countries.
Trinitarian Theism
PhilosophyDialectical Materialism.

Materialism says that "all that exists and is important is matter" (the Bible says the things that are visible are only temporary). The dialectic says that in everything there is a "thesis" (the way things are") and an "antithesis" (opposition to the way things are), which inevitably clash. The result of the struggle is a "synthesis", which becomes a new thesis, attracting another antithesis, synthesis, etc. For Marxists, Dialectical Materialism is the driving process that moved matter from inorganic state into life, then to animals, humans, and finally organised social institutions such as governments and nations.
EthicsProletariat Morality.

Marxist ethics do not come from absolutes. Whatever advances the "proletariat" (working class) is "good". Whatever hinders its advance in social and human evolution is evil. The killing fields of Cambodia, the Soviet Union, Ukraine ,mass murders in China, etc. were the practical results of "class morality". "It does not matter is three quarters of the world is killed, as long as the remaining quarter is communist" (Lenin).
BiologyDarwinian Evolution.

Marxism depends on theories of evolution and spontaneous generation. Marx made it clear Darwin's Origin of the Species was the basis for his views on class struggle. However, Dialectical Materialism needs a theory with clashes and leaps, not a gradual progress like natural selection. Marxists believe in "punctuated equilibrium", ie each species remained stable for long periods of time (equilibrium) and evolution happened through ruptures (punctuations) that led to leaps from one species to the next.
PsychologyMonistic Pavlovian Behaviourism.

Marxism teaches everything a person does is the result of their make-up and the influence of environment (education, surroundings, background, family, etc) on their nervous system. The brain is a collection of nerves, blood vessels and tissues that have been programmed to react in certain ways. Like Pavlov and his dogs, humans are conditioned to feel patriotic when they see a flag, etc. The job of communism is to change conditions and the way people see life.
Mind/Body Dichotomy
SociologyAbolition of Home, State and Church.

The Marxist is anxious to usher in a communist society because only then will man achieve a truly moral social consciousness. When mankind has achieved this, society will be so radically changed that the individual will be influenced to act responsibly at all times. Since every man can be trusted to act responsibly (under the right leadership), established institutions such as the church or family will be unnecessary. In fact. these only serve to hinder man's development, or lead him astray.
Home, Church and State
LawLaw was devised by the propertied class (the bourgeoisie) to protect personal or state property. In Marxism sovereignty is given to proletariat. Communist law grants some rights but only to assist the advancement of communism. Law (and state) will become unnecessary when the full communist system is victorious and the proletariat will experience its communistic paradise.Biblical/Natural Law
PoliticsEventually the world proletariat will rise up, throw off the chains of bourgeois oppression and seize the means of production. distribution and exchange (and with them political power), and establish a global 'dictatorship of the proletariat". This is the next major step in the evolution of a coming world order. Marxists call for a one-world dictatorship of the proletariat because they will control such a government through Marxist/Leninist law. Marxists believes that once every trace of bourgeois ideology and capitalistic tradition has been eradicated a fully communistic society will exist. In such a society, government will become unnecessary and will whither away.Justice, Freedom. Order
EconomicsEconomics is central to Marxism. The economic system of society determines the nature of legal, social, political institutions. Marxists believe anything wrong with society is the result of imperfect modes of production. History has revealed an ordered progress. Societies have been improving because the economic systems on which they have been founded are gradually improving:-
primitive society (things held in common) > slavery > feudalism > capitalism. Flawed capitalism will eventually give way to communism. Private property will be abolished; man will no longer oppress his fellow-man in an effort to protect his property. When all private property and class distinctions have withered away, the transition rom socialism to communism (the highest economic form) will be complete and each individual will see their needs fulfilled.
HistoryHistory for the Marxist is the result of the dialectics at work through biological evolution, economic and the social order. History is a progression of biological and economic evolution that will ultimately result in a society of communist people in a communist paradise.Historical Resurrection

The above is a simple description. Marxism is continually being revised.

Is Christianity Communist?

A misconception exists that Christianity was an early form of communism. Based on a relationships in the New Testament church (Acts 2-4), located in Jerusalem (the model does not appear to have been adopted by the Gentile churches).

This is a misunderstanding of the nature of Christianity. It is impossible to accept dialectical materialism and Christianity at the same time. Marxism certainly sounds like caring and sharing taught by the Bible ("From each according to his ability top each according to his need").

However, Marxism:

The existence of the church is an obstacle to the achievement of a communist world.

Marxism regards economics as the locus of the problem; the "stifling" family unit, the 'delusion" of religion and flawed capitalist systems are "evils" that have to be abolished.

The key is class struggle > revolution > classless society and the abolition of private property.

Christian View of Marxism

Christians believe that:

Sharing the Gospel with Marxists

Marxism is an ideology, but most of its adherents are "ordinary" men and women who are searching answers the "system" does not provide. Many do not even understand what Communism is about, so Christians need to present a combination of a Christian view of the world, a Biblical epistemology and eschatology, and the character of Jesus Christ in action:

The Nature of Society

The Nature of Man - The Solution is Spiritual Not Ideological

Affirmative Christian Action

The Christian Example


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