“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!”
– Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1847
For decades, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union swore that the red tide initiated within its borders would sweep the world covering every nation with the ideals of Marxism. Karl Marx’s promise of a communist utopia was embraced by the governments of many nations and his philosophy became one of the prevalent worldwiews of the 20th century.
Recently, however, the leaders of the Communist Party bowed to a revolution of a different type. This concession was the result of the reform efforts of Mikhail Gorbachev as the party agreed to end its monopoly on power in the Soviet Union. As the world enters a new decade, Karl Marx’s bold statement appears destined for obsolescence.
After a decade of massive social upheaval in countries behind the Iron Curtain, the communist philosophy appears to have become an anachronistic system of a bygone era. The Soviet Union, the nation with the world’s largest land mass and the leader of the communist world, has suddenly had its political power base challenged and its economic system shaken to the core.
Following a costly and unsuccessful war with radical Islamic sects in Afganistan, the Soviet government faced greater battles on the home front. A sagging Soviet economy and splintering political factions within the Communist Party forced Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to take drastic action in the form of perestroika, a plan to revitalize the Soviet economy by implementing reform.
According to Gorbachev, communism has not been successful in the Soviet Union because there is a need for further reform. Gorbachev’s goal is to implement democratic ideals and freedoms in a socialistic structure. In the meantime, Soviet society is in the process of recovery and renewal. Gorbachev firmly believes that an ideal communist society can yet be created in which democratic ideals are cultivated in the hearts of the people. When the Soviet Union is revolutionized through perestroika, he claims, the people will submit willingly to the structure of communism.
“Today our main job is to lift the individual spiritually, respecting his inner world and giving him moral strength. We are seeking to make the whole intellectual potential of society and all the potentialities of culture work to mold a socially active person, spiritually rich, just, and conscientious. An individual must know and feel that his contribution is needed, that his dignity is not being infringed upon, that he is being treated with trust and respect. When an individual sees all this, he is capable of accomplishing much.“1
An understanding of history is essential in analyzing the status of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s pledge to restore the individual spiritually by giving him moral strength becomes tainted when we examine how the current situation came into being.
The Origin of Communism
There is a striking contrast between the teachings of Karl Marx and the teachings of Jesus Christ. A similarity exists between them in their diametrical opposition. The ideal of human equality is fundamental to both Christianity and Marxism. However, Jesus taught that this is achieved only by the direct contact of a relationship with God, while Marxism aims to establish equality by destroying all the higher aspects of the personality. As the following quote reveals, to be a Marxist presupposes a deep hatred of Jesus Christ and His Church:
“The social principles of Christianity have had eighteen centuries in which to develop, and have no need to undergo further development … The social principles of Christianity are lickspittle, whereas the proletariat is revolutionary. So much for the social principles of Christianity!“2
If there is a defense that can be offered for Marx’s bitter and caustic rejection of Christianity, it would be to note that he had personally experienced a weak and anemic church, which was inept in providing the solutions so desperately needed in his generation. The oppression of the working class was indeed a problem in 18th and 19th century Europe. In his homeland of Germany, Marx perceived a a growing problem with seemingly no solution.
Marx blamed social injustice on the capitalistic system. In his works, he claimed that all injustice could be resolved with the elimination of the bourgeoisie, the social class which controlled the production of wealth. Marx proposed that a utopian state would naturally result when the ruling class and the lure of capital were were eliminated from society.
In stark contrast to this philosophy, the Bible teaches us that it is the love of money, but not money itself, which is the root of all evil. Furthermore, Jesus taught us that the basic root of all human problems lies in an innate selfishness. This flawed nature can never be remedied through an external form of government or system of law, but can only be eradicated through a spiritual identification with Christ’s suffering, death on the cross, and His subsequent resurrection. Marxism teaches that the answer to all of humankind’s problems is found in a government structure, while Christianity teaches that the answer is found only in Jesus.
Karl Marx was a product of over a century of intellectual skepticism toward the claims of biblical Christianity. He was influenced by a long string of social philosophers, such as Rousseau, Hegel, Nietsche and Engels, who embraced agnosticism and a rejected the role of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. Man’s only hope, they reasoned, lay in his hidden potential.
Humanism versus Revival Christianity
The origin of the working class revolution can be traced back to the 18th century when the world saw the emergence of two competing methods for the reformation of society: Humanism and Revival Christianity. The scenario which best illustrates the nature and outcome of these two opposite ideals is the social fomentation of England and France during that century. One nation experienced a renewal of Christianity; the other experienced a revolution which plunged them into darkness and a series of bloody wars.
Describing this time period, the English novelist, Charles Dickens, opened The Tale of Two Cities with the following scenario:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way … “
The personalities of the French author, Voltaire, and the English revivalist, John Wesley best typify the contrast of events in these two 18th century nations.
On one side of the English channel, Voltaire, a vicious atheist, surveyed the deteriorating situation in France with pessimism. As in much of Europe, the poor of France were repressed by the rich nobility. Any hope of Christian reform, in Voltaire’s eyes, was scornfully disdained as futile. The only hope for change lay in arbitrary determinism and a violent class struggle. Voltaire’s ideas permeated the atmosphere of France as his society collapsed into a violent and bloody revolution in 1789.
But on the other side of the English channel, hope was reborn. Many of the same social maladies that were prevalent in France also plagued England. But one man, John Wesley, saw a promise in a return to the principles of biblical Christianity. Wesley labored for 53 years, preaching the Gospel, aiding the poor, and building orphanages and schools.
Many historians have credited Wesley with single-handedly turning England away from the same fate as France during the Revolution of 1789. Wesley was a demonstration of what one man, empowered by God, can do to transform a society.
Confronted with the miracle of the New Birth, the experience of knowing God which was sweeping England, Voltaire scoffed and echoed the sentiments of the rationalists of his day. “In one hundred years from now,” he claimed, “Christianity will be a thing of the past and the only Bibles will be in museums!” Ironically, one hundred years later, Voltaire’s home became the site of a Bible publishing house.
19th Century Germany
Karl Marx’s homeland, 19th century Germany, resembled the fast deteriorating society of 18th century France. Abuses against the poor included unhealthy working conditions in factories, conspiracies by wealthy capitalists to keep prices high and workers’ wages low, and cruel exploitation of child laborers.
The ordeal of the human personality in such a barbarous world produced the thinking of such men as Nietsche, Hegel, Marx, Engels and Freud. The prevailing philosophies of each of these men were relativism, rationalism and materialism. Each declared in his own way that “God is dead.” They represented the logical culmination of mankind’s humanistic rebellion against God.
The legacy they left behind – this century’s totalitarian communism – has trampled the human personality and all its God given rights underfoot. Their application of socialism and humanistic atheism to life has produced a system which negates the needs of the human personality. They made this error because they disregarded the teaching that gave birth to the very concept of the human personality, namely, Christianity.
Against the fray of atheistic socialism, appeared two of the greatest thinkers Russia has ever produced, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Both of these men were committed Christians and the influence of their message has been felt as nothing short of prophetic. Two of the world’s most widely acclaimed novelists, still loved and respected in Russia today, had the foresight over one hundred years ago to describe Russia’s destiny – a destiny that is even now beginning to unfold in the 1990s.
The personalities and backgrounds of these two novelists were as different as day and night. One was a genteel estate owner, graced with the privileged upbringing of aristocratic Russian society. The other was the son of Russian peasants, who had to struggle to make a mark for himself in the world of literature.
Viewed by literary scholars as a deeply contradictory man, Tolstoy’s fame rests mainly on two novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy lived for many years as an individualistic aristocrat until, in later life, he rejected his career as a writer of fiction to become a radical Christian, who, in a stream of essays, pamphlets, plays and short stories, advocated a life of love and faith in Jesus Christ.
During the time Tolstoy wrote his two most famous novels, he lived an intensely happy existence, marrying a beautiful woman, fathering 13 children, and managing a large estate with much success. Though happily married, world famous as a novelist, and enjoying a large income, Tolstoy experienced a spiritual crisis. In 1879, he wrote:
“In the middle of thinking about the fame that my works were bringing me I would say to myself, ‘Very well, you will be more famous than Gogol, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Molière, more famous than all the writers in the world – so what?’ And I could find absolutely no reply.“3
After his conversion to Christianity, Tolstoy devoted the rest of his life working among the peasants of Czarist Russia. His rejection of property, his disdain of man-made governments and religious institutions, and his advocacy of non-violent resistance as a means of conquering unrighteous social structures have earned him a place in history as one of the greatest reformers of all time.
Contrary to the claims of Marxism, Tolstoy understood that the reformation of society depended, not on class determinism and violent class struggle, but upon the growing moral perfection of each individual which could only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and through obeying His supreme law of love.
The social background of Dostoyevsky, was entirely different from that of Tolstoy. Known for his novels, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky was the son of a financially insecure, middle-class family and had to struggle to establish a reputation as a writer.
As a young man, he became embroiled in the movement for political reform under the repressive rule of Czar Nicholas I. He began to use his writing talents to propagate the ideas of the French utopian Socialists in radical pamphlets. This activity led to his arrest and conviction in 1849. Dostoyevsky was sentenced to be shot, but through the mercy of God, his sentence was mysteriously changed to four years of hard labor in prison in Omsk, Siberia.
During his time in prison, Dostoyevsky was impressed with the pleasant temperament of many “extraordinary people” who lived in chains. The only book allowed in prison was the New Testament, which he read frequently. It taught him a new faith in Jesus Christ which alleviated his suffering and bitterness. Prison life gave Dostoyevsky a new sense of destiny – a life of service to the poor, insulted, injured masses of Russia.
Upon Dostoyevsky’s release, he began to gain fame as a writer. Socialist radicals were eager to glorify him as a political prisoner, but Dostoyevsky spurned them and their beliefs – especially their rejection of the promises of Jesus Christ. His sympathies were on the side of social reform through the spread of Christian principles immersed in his novels.
The principle idea behind The Idiot, he wrote his niece, “is to portray a positively beautiful man … There is only one positively beautiful man in the world – Christ.“4 Another novel, The Possessed, reflects Dostoyevsky’s opposition to a socialist revolution and an expression of nationalist faith in Russia’s future that can take shape only as his nation turned to faith in Jesus Christ. Likewise, The Brothers Karamazov, considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written, is permeated throughout with a persistent theme of a search for faith in God.
The significance of Dostoyevsky’s and Tolstoy’s works to modern Russia is that they are strikingly prophetic of the rise and inevitable fall of the Soviet empire. Retaining the promise for their nation’s redemption, they provide hope for the present generation in communist Russia, a hope not found in perestroika, but in Jesus Christ.
The Rise of the Soviet Union
Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
At the end of World War I, Russia became embroiled in a bloody civil war and the entire nation succumbed to the oncoming tide of communism. Vladimir Illych Lenin, a young revolutionary, seized power and began a long standing policy of the Soviet Union: hostility toward all forms of Christianity.
In the early years after the revolution it was the Orthodox Church that suffered the full brunt of persecution. Protestant churches enjoyed comparative freedom and took the full advantage, but it was not for long.
Stalin: The Reign of Terror
The bloodiest reign of terror in modern history, which surpassed Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jews, was the rulership of Josef Stalin. During the 1930s and 40s, millions of people were killed in Stalin’s purges. Many of these people were Christians.
Then World War II abruptly changed the situation. Exploiting the Russian nationalism of the Orthodox Church, concessions were made between Stalin and Christian leaders. A relaxation of oppression led to a spiritual revival in the Soviet Union during the war.
Post War Russia
This relative freedom did not last long, however, as Nikita Krushchev came to power in the 1950s. Krushchev unleashed a vicious attack against the Church which lasted until his fall from power in 1964. Half the Orthodox churches in the country were closed during this time and Baptist and Pentecostal churches suffered as well.
This militantly atheistic policy has affected all the churches in the Soviet Union. Communist policy toward the Church has swung between violent persecution and subtle propaganda, but at no time has the Soviet Union officially abandoned its declared aim of destroying Christianity.5
In the midst of these persecutions, there have appeared a group of vocal Christian dissidents within the Soviet Union, who have kept up the prophetic tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in calling their nation back to God. Most notable among these Soviet dissidents are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the recently deceased Andrei Sakharov.
Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, a narrative which describes his imprisonment under Stalin, has also compiled a collection of essays written by some of the Soviet Union’s most brilliant thinkers, the majority of whom also happen to be Christians. The following excerpts are taken from From Under the Rubble:
“Mysteriously and unsuspected by the busy multitudes, Christian consciousness, once almost defunct, is stealing back. It is as if a door had opened while nobody was looking. Why is this rebirth taking place in our country, where Christianity is attacked particularly systematically and with great brutality, while the rest of the world suffers a decline of faith and religious feeling?
“Backsliding and denials notwithstanding, we live in a Christian culture in a Christian age, and it is Christianity that is the fermenting agent, the ‘yeast of the world,’ causing history to rise like dough in a trough, not only in the past but in the future as well. We are profoundly convinced that Christianity alone possesses enough motive force gradually to inspire and transform our world.“6
“We discover with astonishment that so-called rationalist humanism actually lacks an adequate rational basis for its defense of the dignity and inalienable rights of the human personality – for which it has often risked both life and limb. The American Founding Fathers who many years ago first propounded the ‘eternal rights of man and the citizen’ postulated that every human being bears the form and likeness of God; he therefore has an absolute value, and consequently also the right to be respected by his fellows.
“Rationalism, positivism and materialism successively destroyed the memory of this absolute source of human rights. The unconditional equality of persons before God was replaced by the conditional equality of human individuals before the law.“7
Despite the Marxist mandate to sweep aside the principles of Christianity, the strength of the Church has continued to grow behind the Iron Curtain. The principles of communism, which have been cultivated in the Soviet Union for nearly a century, have not achieved the utopia which Marx foresaw. Instead, the predictions of Russia’s prophets are now beginning to come to pass.
From under the rubble of a fallen system, there is now arising a new hope. Communism’s downfall has been precipitated by the presence of an overcoming Church which has withstood all persecution and has now been vindicated by the God of history. The Soviet Union has been destined for one of the greatest spiritual revivals of all time.
The Second Christianization of Russia
Missionaries traveling recently in the Soviet Union report a growing spiritual fervor among the churches. Coupled with this revival has been a nationalistic movement within Soviet satellite nations and a deep spiritual hunger among the people.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost have indeed brought greater freedom for Soviet Christians desiring to spread the gospel throughout their society. The goal of perestroika is the reconstruction of the Soviet economy. However, it is doubtful that something that is so fallen and flawed at its foundations can be rebuilt.
Many of the Soviet Union’s perceived economic problems are simply anti-Christian principles which need to be eradicated from Russian society before the people and culture of that nation can grow and flourish. In the meantime, glasnost has proven to be a gateway for a Christian renewal among the Soviet people.
Contrary to Gorbachev’s plan to reconstruct the communist system, Soviet political theorists are beginning to realize that communism’s principles can be easily refuted with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Aleksandr Tsipko, a consultant in the International Department of the Soviet Central Committee, recently stated, “We have paid dearly for our neglect of man’s true nature. All our absurdities stem from our dogged refusal to see man as he really is, as he has been created by nature and by history.” Tsipko blames Marx for misinterpreting human nature and attributes the current economic and social crisis to the application of Marx’s ideas.
Noted Soviet dissident, Aleksandr Ogorodnikov, has predicted “the second Christianization of Russia” which could occur if Gorbachev’s policies continue on their present course. Ogorodnikov is presently involved in developing the first Christian Democratic Party in the Soviet Union. “Our first priority,” he says, “is fighting communism, and Christianity is the only force that can do this.”
Admitting communism’s failure, while enhancing freedom of expression among the people, Soviet leaders have inadvertently prepared the way for revival. In a short period of time, we can expect that the freedom afforded by glasnost will result in a great move of God among the Soviet people.
Until recently, communism was a pervading world philosophy which competed with Christianity for dominion over men’s souls. Like the many other philosophies that have appeared on the scene of human history to challenge the eternal principles set forth in the Word of God, communism appeared powerful for a season, but has been weighed in the balance of time and has been found empty. In the battle of ideas, the field of competition has now been reduced by one.
1. Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika, New York, Harper & Row, 1987, pg.30
2. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
3. Leo Tolstoy, Confession, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1983, pg. 27
4. The Encyclopedia Britanica, 1985
5. Myra Grant, Vanya, Altamonte Springs, FL, Creation House, 1974, pg.8
6. A.B. “The Direction of Change,” From Under the Rubble, Little, Brown, and Company, 1974, pg.146-147
7. Vadim Borisov, “Personality and National Awareness,“From Under the Rubble , Little, Brown, and Company, 1974, pg. 200