Just a couple of days ago in Canada, Federal Industry Minister James Moore made this statement. And of course, once the public and social media outrage (primarily on twitter) got to be too loud, Moore apologized (for being so foolish as to let his repugnant values show in public).
Also, recently the conservative right in the US (Rush Limbaugh, in particular) have called pope Francis a Marxist for advocating for the poor and speaking out against capitalism. Pope Francis responded by saying he is not a Marxist and Marxist ideology is wrong, instead he is a Christian.
These two media storms highlight a bigger issue that we are facing and that is economic inequality. And I think Christians could benefit from a little Marxism.
Movements like Occupy Wall Street or the recent fast food workers strike show that the economic inequality created by capitalist policies is not really helping most people get ahead, but instead the majority (the middle class) is falling further and further behind the rich few.
Even here in Canada, I hear intelligent, well-meaning people tell me that capitalism is the best economic system for us. I am only 31 years old, but even I remember a time when the ‘capitalists fat cats’ were more joke than revered social leaders.
So here is the thing about Capitalism – The majority of us are not capitalists in this economic system. Capitalists have the capital (money) to invest in stock markets, to own means of production, to run the economy. We are workers, the proletariat, the ones off whom the capitalists earn their riches. Capitalism necessitates that the investors and owners take in the profit margins from the production of their workers. In other words, we must be paid less than we make, produce or earn for our employers. That is who capital is made. That is how capitalist invest in and own things. This is system is unequal from the get go, and most of have drunk the cool-aid thinking that capitalism is fair and balanced system.
Our blind support for capitalism is something that capitalists have convinced us is good for us… Christians included.
Karl Marx, on the other hand, said that the Capitalist promise, that what is good for the Capitalist (increased profits, lower taxes etc…) is also good for the average worker, is a big lie. Sounds like the lie of trickle down economics. The one that Pope Francis is naming.
Pope Francis, you are a Marxist.
Christians should be Marxists too.
Here is something else Karl Marx said:
“Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.”
Sounds a lot like another Marxist:
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
– Jesus, Matthew 25:35-40
We have all been told that Marxism is unequivocally bad. And the examples of Marxism or communism that our world has put into practice haven’t been any better than capitalism for making people’s lives better. They have been pretty awful actually. And I am not saying that we should switch to communism.
But unlike Capitalism, which is a system that is designed to be concerned with and favour those on the top, Marxist thought turns towards the poor and marginalized. Marx’s concern for society or community, was above his concern for the individual. That concern for the poor sounds a lot like that Jesus guy. Marxism suggests an alternative to capitalism: socialism, perhaps leading to communism.
But this where Marxism and Jesus diverge.
Jesus points out that there is no system that will work perfectly.
“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”
– Jesus, Matthew 26:11
Jesus didn’t say you will have the poor until you institute a capitalist, mixed-market, socialist, or communist economic system. He said always.
And this is where Pope Francis is calling us to turn our concern. Christians should not be about one system or another, we shouldn’t be advocating one political or economic system over others. But like Marx, our concern should be for the least of these, for the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the weak of the world. Those who are on the bottom and those who are losing ground. Not only is it our government’s job to feed our neighbour’s children, it is our duty and moral obligation.
And as Christians whose attention is turned to the poor, who like Jesus, like Pope Francis, even like Karl Marx, we who strive for a better world need to balance our concern and work with a confession.
We aren’t going to solve the problem. Our systems, our economies, our politics will not find the solution to starving children. Marxists, nor Capitalists, will find the solution. Human beings will not and cannot find the solution. Every system we create results in someone ending up at the bottom, ending up in the margins.
And that is why as people of faith we turn the One who redeems our failures, who welcomed children when the disciples would not, who promises a new creation, a new system – not of our making, but of God’s.
And in Pope Francis, in food for our neighbour’s children, in small acts of kindness and mercy that go unnoticed each day, we see a glimpse of that New Creation breaking in here all around us – and still yet to come.
What do you think? Are you a closet Marxist? Share in comments or on Twitter: @ParkerErik