Communism and the Bible.
“Karl Marx might have been good at diagnosing the problems of industrial society, but his proposed solutions appear to have been disastrous.” (from the Summary of the July First Thursday). What does this mean?
Marx predicted that in capitalist industrial countries (such as Britain, Germany etc) competition between companies would force down wages and increase unemployment- until so many people would be impoverished that they would rebel, overthrow the system and replace it with socialism. This has not happened- instead companies have expanded the market for their products by paying good wages to many workers (though not to everyone), by extending credit and by seeking out markets abroad. A version of Marxism was imposed in Russia in 1917 which did not lead to socialism but to a totalitarian state. In his 1977 book “The Alternative in Eastern Europe” Rudoph Bahro argued that Russian Communism had achieved modernisation, but that socialism could not happen while a total division remained between those who do the work and those who make the decisions, even though private ownership of the means of production had been abolished.
In the Acts of the Apostles (2:44 and 45; 4:32 to 37) the first Jerusalem Church “owned all things in common”. Is this “communism”- should the Christian Church therefore always be committed to Communism?The Jerusalem Church put into practice in their own situation what they understood to be the standards of justice in the Hebrew Scriptures, as they had been interpreted by Jesus (eg example, the Jubilee laws of Leviticus 25, and Jesus’ demand that the rich man- Mark 10:17 to 31- should give up his holdings). The point for us is not simply to imitate the Jerusalem Church but to discover how those same principles apply to our modern world.
But the Church has usually said that Biblical economic principles are out of date and irrelevant- this began to happen when Christianity was turned into the state religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine and his successors. In the Middle Ages there were attempts to apply Biblical principles to feudal society (eg the “just price” and restrictions on money-lending). But today democratic voting will always support an economic system that appears to work for the majority, even if a minority are left out. However, there are growing signs of breakdown in that system: damage to the environment (not only climate change), reliance on advertising to create consumer “needs”, the impoverishment of a growing number of people in society, the inability to create global justice etc.
The experiments by companies such as Scott-Bader and John Lewis, where workers became share-holders, used to be seen as a creative way forward. Why have they not been widely imitated? In any case, after WW2 it was understood that government should be responsible for maintaining full employment (so all people could hope to be employed and be shareholders). But the policy of full-employment has now been abandoned; businesses can only recruit those who it is profitable to employ, and there is growing resistance to the levels of taxation needed to create other forms of employment or provide benefits to those people who are not employed. Perhaps something more far-reaching is needed even than the “commonwealth” models of Scott-Bader and John Lewis.