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Marx’s and Engels’ Economic Solution
Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) proposed that the human problem was borne of class struggle and the resulting oppression of one class by another.35 That oppression was expressed through four epochs of world history, all representing the struggle between oppressor and oppressed: (1) primitive and communal, (2) slave, (3) feudal, and (4) capitalist. Marx and Engels argued that a fifth era—a socialist and communist epoch—would resolve the issue once and for all, bringing in a golden age of equality and justice. This solution was rooted in the view of all history as economic history, thus the problem was an economic problem, and the solution was likewise an economic one. That solution was “summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.”36
Marx and Engels suggested that private property had already been abolished for most, as “private property is already done away with for nine- tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.”37 The implications of the elimination of private property (as a tool of oppression) were broad, and necessitated the “abolition of the family,”38 and the use of familial relations as engines of commerce. In order to rescue children from the evils of oppression, education would be made public and removed from the ruling class and their privatized education.39
The summary focus of this economic solution—socialism and communism—“abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis.”40 These ends “can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”41 Because the problem is diagnosed simply as economic, there is no focus on the tethering of justice to anything other than an economic system—no justification of why justice matters. There is only an appeal to those dissatisfied by their current conditions to overthrow the economic powers of the day in order to seek their own betterment. Marx and Engels advocate a system that was in their time a modern expression of Plato’s ideal city state governance—rule by the enlightened few to ensure that the common people are protected from themselves.
Communism sets out to free the human condition from the greed that so entangles us and that ultimately facilitates our own enslavement. Communism is most ambitious in its diagnosis of the human condition (greed, oppression) and in its prescription for redeeming the human condition (the abolition of all private property, and the dissolution of every societal force promulgated by the existence of capital). In communism, morality (albeit entirely redefined) is legislated to the utmost.42
Because the communist ideal views the proper state of nature as the appropriate economic conditions to ensure the absence of oppression, individual liberties are not advocated. It is the very expression of those liberties that is perceived as creating the oppressive conditions. Rather than allowing people to independently and from parents learn to reason and express their freedoms and responsibilities well, the socialist communist agenda co-opts parentage and education in order to ensure that none pursue individualistic interests. Private property—that very thing that Locke considered as a means of personal preservation and the preservation of liberties—cannot have a place if the collective is put before the individual. Of course the Manifesto makes no appeal to Scripture for its claims, for if it did, it would have to contend with the likes of Locke who would challenge the reliability of the exegesis and encourage the reader to use their own reason to assess and critique the system—choosing for themselves whether to participate or not.
Adam Smith’s Property As Expression of Freedom
Building on Locke’s foundation, Adam Smith (1723-1790) viewed property and wealth as a necessary expression of individual liberty, not only for subsistence but for the well-ordered life:
Neither is wealth necessary merely because it affords the means of subsistence: without it we should never be able to cultivate and improve the higher and nobler faculties. Where wealth has not been amassed, every one being constantly in providing for his immediate wants has no time left for the culture of the mind; and the views, sentiments, and feelings of the people become alike contracted, selfish, and illiberal … The acquisition of wealth is, in fact, quite indispensable to the advancement of society in civilization and refinement.43
Smith recognizes that society is able to flourish when the appropriate handling of wealth is in place. He suggests that, “The number and eminence of our philosophers, poets, scholars, and artists have always increased proportionally to increase of the public wealth, or to the means of rewarding and honoring their labors.”44 Smith even acknowledges that the concept of free trade allows the sharing of wealth, and that God spread out the resources of the planet so that there would be global and free trade among all:
For the God of heaven and earth, greatly providing for mankinde, would not that all things should be found in one region, to the ende that one should have need of another; that, by this means, friendship might be established among all men, and every one seek to gratifie all.45
Because of this principle, Smith advocates for only minimal regulation of commerce. He postulates that
Had government been able to act according to its sense of what was most for the public advantage, without being influenced by the narrow views and prejudices of the manufacturing and commercial classes, there seem to be good grounds for thinking that there would have been, comparatively, few restrictions on industry.46
While Locke focused on the basic premises of government, Adam Smith delineates the expressions of appropriate government in economic contexts, specifically related to property and wealth. Smith’s conclusions are directly contrary to those of Marx and Engels, as Marx and Engels are working from a Platonic platform of the elite making choices for the populace, while Locke and Smith are working from an altogether different platform that the individual rather than the collective is most important, because individuals are imbued by God with His image, and consequently, possess certain rights.
35 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Penguin Books, 1967),95.
36 Marx and Engels, 96.
37 Marx and Engels, 98.
38 Marx and Engels, 99.
39 Marx and Engels, 100.
40 Marx and Engels, 103.
41 Marx and Engels, 120.
42 Christopher Cone, “The Inherent Limitation of Government” in Biblical Worldview Applied (Fort Worth, TX: Exegetica Publishing, 2016), 195.
43 Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Edinburgh: Adam and Chalres Black and William Tait, 1837), xv-xvi.
44 Adam Smith, xvi.
45 From a 1553 letter to Sir Hugh Willoughby and Richard Chancellor, in Adam Smith, xxv.
46 Adam Smith, xxv.
Christopher Cone, Christopher Cone, Th.D, Ph.D, Ph.D, serves as President and CEO of AgathonEDU Educational Group and leads Vyrsity and Colorado Biblical University. Dr. Cone has served as a President, a Chief Academic Officer, and a Research Professor and has served in several pastoral teaching roles. His articles are published at www.drcone.com.