Perhaps you’ve heard the joke: There are no Marxists in the Soviet Union because they all found professorships in American Universities. Some joke! And it is not far from the truth. Though universities are not centers of revolutionary violence today as they were in the 1960s, Marxism is still alive and well on the university campus.
Marxist scholarship is commonplace in literary studies, sociology, anthropology, and history. In some fields, Marxism and feminism are the dominant worldviews of scholars. Between 1970 and 1982, four Marxist textbooks in American government were published. In the 1960s, only a few universities taught courses on Marxism; today there are over 400 such courses at universities around the country.1
The Marxist professor is not always a raving lunatic revolutionary. Many sociologists and economists, for example, employ “Marxist analysis” without adopting wholesale its revolutionary agenda. But there are raving lunatics too. Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin has written in New Political Science that Marxism, “can do nothing for the university; the real question is what can Marxists do to and in the university … For the natural and social scientist the answer is very clear. The university is a factory that makes weapons – ideological weapons – for class struggle, for class warfare, and trains people in their use. It has no other leading and important function in the social organization.“2
In other words, some Marxist professors at least are at the university to train students to be revolutionaries. No wonder Secretary of Education William Bennett has warned about the prominence of anti-democratic opinion on the college campus.3
As mentioned above, Marxism has permeated many different areas of study. Don’t think you will be safe from Marxist influence by majoring in English literature. Marxist professors and concepts have infiltrated virtually every area of study.
What is the worldview of Marxism? It would be impossible to discuss every facet of Marxist thought in these few pages. So, we will look at a few concepts that are especially important to the Christian student.
1. Marx viewed all religions, including Christianity, as illusions. Despite recent efforts to reconcile Christianity with Marxism, atheism is a basic premise of the Marxist system of thought. Marx himself said that “man makes religion; religion does not make man,” and concluded that religion is the “opium of the people,” providing an illusion of happiness without true happiness.4
Marxism, in short, is a materialistic worldview; the consistent Marxist believes that the material world is the ultimate reality, that there is no God beyond the forces of history and nature.
Significantly, Marx’s main attack was not on the idea of God’s existence as such, but on God’s sovereign dominion over all things. He rejected the Christian doctrine of creation, because he realized that a Creator-God is also a Sovereign God. Marx’s philosophical hero was the mythical character, Prometheus, whose battle cry was, “I hate all gods.“5
2. Marx’s view of history, which has come to be known as “dialectical materialism,” is consistent with his rejection of Christianity. History is not the story of God’s dealings with men, but the progress of man from one social arrangement to another, from feudalism to capitalism for example. This progress takes place through changes in technology that lead to changes in the way that people are organized for production. Changes in the organization for production in turn lead to ideological and political conflicts between those classes which want to conserve the old order and those which seek to make drastic changes. Revolutionary class conflict, whether peaceful or violent, produces social change.
In the history of the West, this process has caused the change from feudalism to capitalism, and will, Marx believed, cause the change from capitalism to “scientific” socialism. In the last stage of history, after a transitional stage of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (lower urban classes), the State will wither and a classless society will emerge. The details are not as important here as the basic point that Marx viewed history as the unfolding of completely materialistic forces.
3. Another key presupposition of Marx was his view of man. As a materialist, Marx denied that each man is a creature made in the image of a sovereign God. Rather, man is an essentially social being, with no individual human nature. His whole life is bound up with his social relations.
This did not mean for Marx that man has no control over his destiny, and in fact Marxism wavers between a deterministic view that socialism is inevitable, and the call to action. Man is determined by the social forces of history, but he can act to hasten the revolutionary change. This apparent contradiction is resolved by Marxism’s ethical imperative for men to act in ways that correspond with the direction of history.
The ethical foundation of Marxism, in short, is to jump on the bandwagon that is moving in the direction of the revolution. The one ethical imperative in Marx is to “overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, forsaken, despicable being,” with the ultimate end being to restore man to his true humanity from which he is alienated by capitalist society. In other words, Marx sees his purpose as teaching that “man is the highest being for man.“6 The revolutionary social transformation from capitalism to socialism will produce a new man and a new human nature, no longer alienated from himself and nature.
What makes Marxism so appealing on the college campus today? First, it provides a comprehensive, positive vision of human life and history. Once Christianity is rejected, some other worldview will fill the void, and Marxism is a total worldview. Second, Marxism is particularly appealing because it offers an alternative to Christianity that is very similar in structure to Christianity. Like Christianity, Marxism teaches that man can be saved from his present condition of alienation. Like Christianity, Marxism looks forward to a complete transformation of society.
Third, Marxism, in a simplified form, can easily be used as a weapon to attack your opponents. Marx’s claim that ideas are products of class has been used to undermine any and all philosophies. The Marxist radical can debunk a Christian’s claim that God blesses His people by saying that the Christian view is just a product of a particular social class.
Next Month: Eastern Mysticism
1 Stephen H. Balch and Herbert I. London, “The Tenured Left,” Commentary (October 1986), pp. 44-45.
2 Quoted in ibid., p. 45.
3 Quoted in ibid.
4 Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, in Early Writings, trans. and ed. by T.B. Bottomore (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), pp. 43-44.
5 Klaus Bockmuehl, The Challenge of Marxism: A Christian Response (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1980), p. 52.
6 Quoted in ibid., p. 91.
Excerpt used from Surviving College Successfully: A Complete Manual for the Rigors of Academic Combat by Gary DeMar. © 1988 by Primero Resources, used by permission of Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, Inc. Available from your local Christian bookstore.