For the vast majority of us in the Western world, it is difficult to imagine the cultural upheavals that resulted from the Industrial Revolution. Its first phase in Europe and America, from the late 1700s to the early 1800s, witnessed the beginning of a civilizational transformation from rural life rooted in agriculture to urban life based on machines and factories.
The result was “creative destruction” – the tearing down of an older way of life to make way for the new. The Industrial Revolution not only laid the foundation stones for our modern economy, but it did so by generating plenty of human misery, such as child labor, dangerous working conditions, and lung-choking pollution.
Oppressor and oppressed
The Industrial Revolution was driven by capitalism, or the private ownership of the means of creating products and getting them to market. By using family fortunes, borrowing money, or other methods of pooling wealth, vast industries began their rise in the chaotic milieu of those times. What capitalism was able to create benefited substantial numbers of people, but its societal costs also made it a target of intense criticism.
Chief among the enemies of capitalism were a growing number of socialist philosophers. From ancient times there had existed various communitarian and utopian concepts that many historians consider to have been “socialist” in a very broad sense. However, the Industrial Revolution seemed to spawn a fresh movement of theorists whose visceral reactions to and criticisms of capitalism became what we now refer to as socialism. The 1848 publication of The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, cemented the influence of those criticisms.
The difference between socialism and communism, according to Marx, was that communists were socialists who held no nationalistic sentimentality.
Marx said that during the struggles of the working class in many nations, communists “point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire [working class], independently of all nationality.”
In any case, the core idea of both socialism and communism is that private property is inherently destructive and must be abolished for mankind to achieve true greatness. Simply put, when one person owns something – be it a parcel of land, a house, or a factory – it must necessarily mean that someone else does not own it.
Wealth tends to accumulate in the hands of a small percentage of the population of any given society, socialists argue, while large swaths have nothing or very little. This disparity creates a division between the wealthy owners of capital, called the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat, or working class. It is not a benign rift, however. The Communist Manifesto insisted that the bourgeoisie will always brutally oppress the proletariat at every turn.
Marx and his masses
Marx and Engels said this “class struggle” has driven all of human history, even before the Industrial Revolution. The reason that oppression has been so universal, they said, is that those who own great wealth naturally create societies that protect their private property.
They claim this is done by using government influence and power. For example, in terms of influence, governments support an educational system that teaches young people to respect private property. Likewise, religion keeps the oppressed focused on the afterlife so they will not attempt to overthrow their oppressors. This is why Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses.”
Marxists contend that governments use outright force to protect the privileged position of the wealthy. Whether it is the political system and its laws or the police and court systems that uphold them, coercion and punishment keep the proletariat under the thumb of the bourgeoisie.
The capitalists have allegedly rigged the system to favor themselves and facilitate their brutal oppression of the working class. Thus, Marxists believe that revolution is necessary to catapult mankind to its inevitable destiny. Capitalism is merely a phase in the history of class struggle; the exploitation of workers will cease as the internal contradictions of capitalism eventually create a proletariat that is strong enough to revolt.
That Marxist revolutionary working class institutes the dictatorship of the proletariat, creating a totalitarian socialist state that abolishes private property. On behalf of the workers, the state claims ownership of the means of the production and distribution of goods.
Today there is plenty of confusion in America over the subject of socialism. For one thing, rather than emphasizing the revolutionary nature of capitalism’s demise, some socialists take an evolutionary approach. While Marx had little use for piecemeal attempts to mitigate what he saw as the oppression by the bourgeoisie, many socialists believe otherwise.
This evolutionary socialist approach further muddies the waters because it can easily be confused with the modern welfare state, as evidenced by capitalistic democracies that uphold the importance of private property, yet still provide large “safety nets” for the poorer members of society.
Perhaps this explains polling results in which Millennials and Gen Zers say they support socialism, when in reality they are demanding things like free health care and free college tuition.
One can certainly sympathize with critics when they point to the devastation that can result when forms of capitalism are unfettered by Christian conscience and untethered to compassion. As Westerners have turned away from God, that apostasy has manifested itself in a variety of ways. Unbridled greed in a capitalist society is as much an evidence of a godless people as legalized theft in a socialist one.
Some current economic trends in Western civilization – for example, the role of artificial intelligence in replacing human workers – also put enormous financial pressure on people. They are demanding answers to their economic woes.
Atheism and apostasy
The problem is that sometimes, people can ask the right questions but get the wrong answers – and socialism is a wrong answer. The dangers of Marxist thought within our nation should not be underestimated. True socialism is rooted in atheism. It demands the end of private property. Because it longs for a totalitarian state, socialism requires a revolution that would overthrow our constitution and our economic way of life.
Moreover, we can clearly see the foundations for socialism being laid in America. An aggressive form of atheism has gone to war against the Judeo-Christian principles of our founding. Progressive ideology has created an acceptance of and appetite for expansive government that suppresses individual rights for the “common good.”
Attacks on the legitimacy of private property and the acquisition of wealth are mouthed on network cable talk shows and shouted in protests on college campuses. Finally, the Marxist philosophical framework of oppressor and oppressed is propagated as dogma everywhere in the institutions of power.
The true solution to our economic afflictions will come only from a Christian worldview because such a perspective reflects the world as it truly operates – that is to say, the way God created it.
The fight against socialism in our nation is no mere intellectual exercise; it is a war against a poisonous doctrine that will end our republic. True socialists don’t even try to hide that goal. They are working tirelessly to accomplish it.
(Editor’s Note: This was first published for the print edition of the AFA Journal in October 2020, and the full online edition can be found here.)
More insights on the subject
The Progressive Threat to the American Republic, a booklet by Ed Vitagliano, supplements this article. It is available at afastore.net or 877.927.4917. Watch for his follow-up article, “Socialism’s blood-stained hands,” in the December AFA Journal.