Why You Should Listen to Communists

Politics — By on March 4, 2014 at 7:00 am

Don’t panic. I am not a communist. I’m a patriotic American, and I fully believe in the freedom and opportunity of the capitalist system, in which hard work, motivation, and diligence gives way to success.

I did, however, just finish reading Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto, with (I hope) an open mind.

Let’s face it: nobody agrees about everything. We’re all constantly trying to convince each other that our opinions are the right ones. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of automatically dismissing other beliefs. Instead, there are several key reasons why you shouldn’t disregard someone else’s ideas before hearing them out:

1. They might be right—or at least, partially right. It would be a mistake to allow pride to keep us from learning from others. Ever heard the saying, “Every lie contains a grain of truth?” The people who disagree with you feel just as strongly about their ideas as you do about yours.

Take the Communist Manifesto, for example. Most capitalists think communists want to take away freedom. In the Manifesto, Marx writes, “Rightly so. The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at.”

After reading an admission like this, it’s easy to balk. But Marx is trying to solve a very real problem. He thinks society is fundamentally ill because the rich no longer care about the laborers, but only about profit. And he’s right—the consumer world is often heartless. I just don’t think Communism is the right way to go about fixing the problem.

2. By understanding their view, you can better understand your own. Automatically dismissing Marx’s ideas as crazy and impractical doesn’t formulate a better solution to the problem. Instead, I should work through why Communism is a bad idea, because it will help me truly understand and appreciate capitalism.

This is why we study history. We’re hoping to learn from the dead and not repeat their mistakes.

3. You have a better chance of convincing them your opinion is right. This works two ways. First, you’ll understand their argument well enough to refute it properly. If you’ve done the work of understanding their side, you can reasonably show them why your view makes more sense.

Second, “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” A shouting match will only offend your opponent. If you aren’t willing to listen to others, they won’t listen to you.

Honestly, after reading the Communist Manifesto, I’m amazed that Marx was able to convince anyone to follow his views, let alone revolutionize entire countries. He makes large, generalized statements that are untrue, unresearched, and unfair. Yet he gets away with them because he is so passionate about the subject.

But I’m glad I read it, because it has given me a more charitable view of Marx. It’s not that I agree with his views, but I no longer see him as an evil villain, conspiring to destroy human happiness. He was a humanitarian, a visionary who saw a problem and dedicated his life to finding a solution, even if that solution turned out to be flawed.


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  • jamesfarnold

    I’ve still not read Marx, so bear that in mind for these comments.

    When interacting with a big idea, you’re right to approach it charitably. I think the biggest question we can ask is simple: why do so many people believe this? There aren’t a *ton* of communists today, at least that we interact with, but why was Marx so persuasive? Was it just his passion? I suspect not, though I don’t know.

  • Kaley Mulligan

    I just read a chapter of Communist Manifesto, and I too thought that Marx had some good observations (that we can learn from) but some flawed predictions. One of the reasons that the Manifesto might have been so successful was because most citizens are of the working class–they feel oppressed by the bourgeoisie and desire a more “equal” society.
    Christians should think critically about the flaws Marx points out in society. We are called to seek justice for the oppressed, and in a capitalist society, the working class is often oppressed. Marx causes me to question the overlap between my two citizenships–as a citizen of heaven, how do I interact with earthly systems that are often unjust? I am very proud to be an American, yet I should not let my American status blind me to the ill effects of capitalism. I don’t have any answers at this point, but think that Christians need to seriously think about what “justice for all” looks like in a capitalist society.

  • http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com Assistant Village idiot

    Marxism, and the other utopian schemes of the early 19th C, might be best thought of as Christian heresies, rather than in direct opposition to the faith. Perhaps they were a post-enlightenment attempt to retain some of the “best parts” without having any of the religion. That interpretation would square with the practical experience we have of the commitment and dependence people have on such ideas, i.e. “The God That Failed,” or “Heaven On Earth.” Certainly, there have been utopian groups, especially communist, which have set themselves in direct opposition to Christianity. But not all. One can debate whether Scandinavian socialism is an interpretation of the faith or a subversion of it, but it does happily coexist with those state churches.