Was Marxism a Christian Heresy? I believe that it was originally conceived as an toxic offshoot of the European Enlightenment that miscarried at birth. Over the following century the futile attempts to resuscitate this stillborn fetus ended up transforming Marxism into a Christian heresy.
Karl Marx was deeply interested in classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Smith was a central figure in the eighteenth century Scottish Enlightenment whose book on political economy, The Wealth of Nations explains how capitalism with functional market allocations creates vast amounts of wealth. David Ricardo adapted Smith’s basic model of capitalist market economies to explain the distribution of wealth across social classes and the central importance of international trade.
The central weakness of these classical political economy models was the inadequacy of the labour theory of value or price. The labour theory of value explained prices in a market economy as the result of the labour inputs used to produce the priced outputs. The inadequacy of this theory was exposed most forcefully in the diamond / water paradox. Diamonds are valuable luxury items that require a great deal of labour inputs, so they have a high price. Yet water is absolutely essential for human life and even though little labour is requires to obtain water, it is paradoxical that this vital resource is priced at so much less than diamonds, which are an unnecessary luxury.
Marx published the first volume of Capital, his major treatise on political economy in 1867. Together with his other writings his objective extends far beyond political economy. In his writings he is using political economy to try and explain all human history. He wants to transform political economy into a “scientific” explanation of the cosmic foundations of social evolution.
According to this “scientific” explanation of human history, the ultimate cause of all social change is technological improvements in the production process, or in Marxist technology changes in the “forces of production.” These changes require changes in the “relations of production,” which are the class relationships in any given society. For Marx and all Marxism social strife is the result of conflicts between the “forces of production” and the “relations of production.”
In modern terminology the Marxist social conflicts are the result of social changes in the workforce that are mad necessary by improvements in production technology. For Marx and the Marxists these improvements in production technology always lead to the replacement of labour inputs by machine inputs, which will soon triggers the final revolution and the emergence of a new society where labour inputs will crush the owners of the machine inputs. This will harmonize the relationships between the forces of production or production technology and the relations of production or the elimination of class structures in a harmonious communist society.
Five years after the publication of the first volume of Capital by Marx, the discipline of economics began to be completely revolutionized by the replacement of the outmoded and inadequate labour theory of value by the new neoclassical marginalist theory of value or price. With this new theory, prices in a capitalist market economy are not the sole and exclusive result of labour inputs. Instead, they are the result of the interaction of both supply and demand which register the relative scarcities of goods and services that are exchanged in a market economy.
The diamond /water paradox is no longer a paradox in the new neoclassical paradigm. Diamonds have high prices because both the demand for them and the supply of them imply that they are very scarce. Conversely water has a much lower price than diamonds because the supply of it is so much greater than the demand for it.
The Marxists completely reject the neoclassical theory of value or price. However, the neoclassical theory of value / price revealed that the Marxist “scientific” explanation of the laws of human history had completely miscarried. The Marxist model was proposing was that the improvements in production technology that occurred with capitalism were completely eliminating scarcity, such that there was there was a superabundance of productive output and a communal society without the need for property rights, international trade, market mechanisms or any of the institutions of capitalism was “just around the corner.”
With the Russian revolution Marxism changed from a system that had miscarried intellectually to the political basis of the former Russian empire. Supreme power in the Empire that became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was held for well over two decades by a student who had been expelled from the Tiflis Theological Seminary, Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvil, better known to the world as Joseph Stalin. Stalin always claimed that he was expelled because he had attempted to convert his fellow seminarians to Marxism.
Stalin’s expulsion from seminary for his attempted conversions became overshadowed by his conversion of the stillborn Marxist offshoot from the European Enlightenment to a simple straightforward Christian heresy. The spiritual dimension of Christianity has led its detractors to claim that it is an outlook that can be conveniently dismissed because it simply promises “pie in the sky when you die.” The overwhelmingly material dimension of Marxism enabled Stalin and his many disciples to convert its political practice to one of being simply “pie on the earth when the Soviet improvements in production technology enable us to completely eliminate scarcity and oversee a communal communist society.”
The most remarkable aspect of this materialist Christian heresy is that it worked so well for so long. Indeed the demise of the Communist movement has led to the modern resuscitation of so-called “Cultural” Marxism, which seems to imply that Marxism has relevance for non-economic aspects of modern culture. The tragedy is that Marxism was never anything else except “cultural.” It was only a stillborn toxic offshoot of the European Enlightenment that never had any serious economic content. Its vast political implications in the twentieth century were solely cultural. The deeper tragedy is that it was this very “cultural” Marxism that led to almost 100 million deaths.