The following is an old lecture which I here publish instead of the Rev. Ophoff’s article, who is unable to write at present. H.H.
It is a well-known fact that Socialism a name that is applied to one of the most remarkable and widespread movements of the present age. For although in recent times the term has been frequently replaced by that of Bolshevism, it should never be forgotten that Bolshevism is after all nothing else than Socialism in principle and practice. Bolshevism may have revealed itself of late as being rather anarchistic in character, in the first place it must be remembered that all Socialism is ultimately anarchistic, and cannot rest satisfied with anything less than the total abolishment of the present order of society; and in the second place, that the circumstances under which Bolshevism arose especially in Russia were highly conducive to exactly such anarchistic programs as have been enacted in the old world. Whether, therefore, you speak of Bolshevism, or simply of Socialism, or again as they love to call it in Germany and in the Netherlands, of Social Democracy, in principle it makes no particle of difference,—all these movements are closely allied, and to them all the name of Socialism is applicable. This movement has of recent days made tremendous strides toward the realization of its ideal. Under the pressure of the world-war that has now practically come to its official termination Socialism found fertile soil for its development in the stress of the times and the miserable conditions under which especially the lower classes had to suffer. Insufficient nourishment, the enforced authority of regularly instituted government to call its subjects to arms, the suffering and bloodshed and sacrifice, the destruction of homes and property,—in short, all the misery caused by the war naturally was conducive of much dissatisfaction and grumbling, and dissatisfaction in the minds and hearts of the masses is a very favorable condition to the growth of socialism. No, indeed, we do not mean to leave the impression that these miserable conditions and this dissatisfaction with them is the real, principle and cause of socialism,—this lies of course far deeper. But granted that this principle does exist, poor social conditions will serve as an impetus to its manifestation and development. And, therefore, it need cause no surprise that especially of late socialism has had a grand opportunity to develop. Rising as a dark cloud at the eastern horizon of Europe, it soon spread over the old world and more than we are probably as yet aware of has gained a foothold also in our own country. And, therefore, a few words on the subject of socialism cannot be called out of date in our day.
It must be confessed from the outset, that it is rather difficult to give a satisfactory answer to the question: what is socialism? For in the first place, it is a fact that economical experts widely differ in their description and definition of the principles of this system and movement, and consequently, the definitions that have been given of Socialism are so numerous that it would be of no benefit to enumerate them all. Just because they vary so considerably, they would not help us. And in the second place, though socialism may remain the same in principle throughout the history of the modern world, it must be confessed that it is very pliable and adapts itself readily to circumstances. Socialism is not always the same in external appearance, it does not always publish the same platform, it does not always come with the same program to be carried out. And thus it also differs in form at least in various countries. In our country, for instance, it does not assume the same form as in Europe. Much of our Socialism here offers itself on the market as Christianity, or social Christianity. And again the Bolshevism of Russia, though essentially nothing but Marxian socialism and that of a rather moderate type, reveals itself different from German socialism or from the socialism of any other country in the old world. It assumes many different forms, reveals itself under various aspects, according as time and circumstances demand. And, therefore, it would be extremely difficult, if not actually impossible to offer a definition that would embrace in its scope all the different forms of socialism as they exist in different ages and climes. And, hence, would we obtain some conception nevertheless of what socialism really is, we will have to look for some kernel, some principle, some program all the different classes and groups of socialists have admittedly in common.
And then, I wish to state in the first place that Socialism is by no means the opposite of individualism. Literally the term socialism would seem to imply that it stands diametrically opposed to all individualistic views of society. And many socialist scholars and leaders come with this contention. They maintain that only socialism offers the true conception of society and, therefore, is able to come with the only possible solution of the social problems, as over against individualism. The latter considers society as a mere mass of individuals; a collection of persons that exist side by side in the world without any mutual and organic relation between them. It refuses to consider society as an organism, and hence, as a whole, and rather represents it as a mechanical institution. Of course, this view is directly opposed to every true conception of society, For the true conception is not that society is like a heap of sand, the grains of which simply are heaped upon one another, but between which there is no relation whatsoever; but that it is an organism, the members of which are organically related, are mutually interdependent, each of whom has his own definite place, and all of whom are laboring together in harmony for the welfare of the whole. Regardless now of the question in how far such society can actually exist and be realized in a sin-scarred world, where elect and reprobate live together, it must be granted in the abstract that this is the only possible, the only correct view of society in general. And it is this view of society, upon which according to many writers, socialism is actually based, and from which it proceeds. This, however, we deny from the outset. For it is exactly peculiar to socialism to divide society from the outset, both in theory and practice, into two classes, that of the capitalists on the one, that of the proletarians on the other side, and that pictures to itself the relation between these two social classes as continual antagonism and warfare. It is not true that socialism looks upon society as one whole; it divides society. It is not true that socialism is anxious to seek the welfare of the whole, or, as it has often been alleged, of the greatest possible number; it seeks the welfare exclusively of a certain class, of the proletariat, regardless of society as a whole.
The real character of all socialism can be expressed no better, perhaps, than by the well-known term: “Communism.” Communism, it may be asserted, is the real essence of all socialism, under whatever form, at whatever age, in whatever country it may appear. It is characteristic of communism to find the root of all evil in the fact of private property, and therefore, the cure, the only remedy for all the misery in the world is the abolishment of the present system, and the inauguration of a dispensation in which all shall share equally in the material blessings of this world. The present system, under which most all the land and all the capital of the world is in the hands of a few, inevitably leads to the degradation of the working classes, that must labor hard for a bare living. And on the other hand, while the present system sends the masses of people to the slums, and condemns them to mere animal existence, or to the life of a slave; the same system is the cause of vice and immorality and all kinds of debasement among the rich that grow wealthy while sleeping, and reap the fruits of the labor of their fellow-men. Socialism, like communism, holds that private property must be changed to common property. We are all equal. We have an equal right to all things. We must live as brothers upon earth, children of a common Father, and share in the Father’s bounties, even as we all equally enjoy the light of the sun. In this respect, at least, all socialistic schools may be said to be fairly well agreed though they differ in regard to the question of application and the realization of their program.
In order, however, to express a correct judgment upon socialism as a system, it must .be considered in the light of its history. To do this we must concentrate our attention first of all upon that form of socialism which was called the Utopian, or that farm of socialism as it appeared directly after the French revolution and at the dawn of the industrial revolution in England. According to two French writers of the time, St. Simon and Fourier, the French revolution had by no means accomplished what it promised. It had sounded the beautiful trumpet of “LibertÃ©, egalitÃ© et fraternitÃ©” but in actual fact it accomplished nothing. A little more political freedom was all it brought about. Equality was still far from being realized in France, and liberty was still a relative term, while fraternity one must not look for at all. True, the nobility and clergy had been deprived of some of their outrageous privileges, but the greatest privilege, the root of all other privileges, and at the same time the root of all the social evils of the time—private property—had remained untouched. The revolution was the triumph of the liberal party, of the higher bourgeoisie, but the lower classes had been left in their degradation. And, therefore, the fight must be continued. Not, however, by another bloody revolution would these men carry out their program, but by the simple preaching of the gospel of communism. The new light must be liberally spread, the seed of the new gospel must be freely disseminated, the coming revolution, which would be the triumph of communism and the ultimate defeat of all private property, must be gradually prepared by this new gospel in the hearts and minds of all the people. And the change in the social order would follow spontaneously.
A third writer of that period was the famous Englishman, Robert Owen. He had grown up in a period when the industrial revolution in England was in full sway. The blind power of the machine replaced the skill of the mechanic and thousands upon thousands were gradually drawn from their small workshops into the large factories. Owen had been witness of the change and was deeply conscious of the abuse of the factory system. The workingmen had to-labor mercilessly long hours for starvation wages. Many women and children, anxious, or rather compelled by the very system to do their share for the upkeep of the family, were employed, the latter even as young as five and six years of age. And these had to work the same number of hours, had to do practically the same work, and for still smaller wages. Untold misery existed in England among the lower classes. According to Owen, the causes of this misery were in the first place, marriage, that causes men to be tied down to large families and compelled them to bow under the new industrial conditions; in the second place, religion, which kept men satisfied with existing conditions, or at least made them reconciled to the present with a view to the compensation a future world offered. But in the third place and above all, also according to Owen, private property was the chief cause of all the existing misery in society. It was because the land and the capital were in the hands of a few capitalists, and because of the resulting competition between these few, that the laboring class had to suffer, And, therefore, the gospel of communism would have to take the place of the gospel of Christ, all property had to be placed under control of a socialistic state, and presently the misery would cease and the dawn of a new and better era would soon gladden the hearts of all.
There you have in brief the views of three of the most prominent writers of that time. All three were materialistic at bottom, and as you will have noticed, all three found the only possible solution of the social problem in the communistic program. In France this was an outgrowth of the revolutionary philosophy of Voltaire and Rousseau and others, while at the same time it was an attempt to complete the revolution. In England communism may be called the legitimate child of the industrial revolution. All have a view for the things of the world only. All discard the tremendous fact of sin in their account of evil conditions, all find the salvation of men in a change of the existing social order.
An enormous change was brought about, however, by Karl Marx, the well-known German socialist philosopher, who succeeded by his theory of social evolution to give a new meaning to socialism and to guide it in entirely different channels of action. Marx was born at Treves and studied at the universities of Berlin and Bonn. He soon revealed a remarkable interest in the study of history and philosophy. At an early date he developed his own philosophy, which may be characterized as historical materialism. Being a disciple of Hegel, the pantheist, he practically reversed his teacher’s view. For Hegel the Idea, the absolute Spirit was all. But for Karl Marx matter was everything, the idea nothing. And this basic view constitutes the principle of his entire philosophy of historical evolution.
What is historical evolution? It is a philosophy arrived at by viewing all history thru materialistic spectacles. It is, of course, based on the theory of evolution. In his earliest stage of development man was but a highly developed animal. As long as private property did not exist, this man-animal was relatively happy and tame. But private property was introduced and this constitutes the fall of man. Peace was disturbed, happiness destroyed. For, the private property holders became great beasts of prey, who desired nothing less than to gain control over all things, and the non-possessors became a mass of slaves groaning under the yoke of oppression. But these non-possessors could not passively submit themselves to this state of affairs. They rose in rebellion. They struggled for freedom. They demanded equality. War broke out, a bitter war, a war which from earliest days may be traced throughout the history of the race. And now it is the law of historical evolution, according to Marx, that the non-possessors gradually prevail and conquer. Gradually they improve their own condition. Gradually the position of the few possessors will become more and more untenable, until according to the same inevitable law of historical evolution the new era shall dawn in which all private property shall have been abolished and all things shall be enjoyed equally by all. This progress to the socialistic state of things Marx traces thru history. In the old Asiatic form of society, at the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the husband was even the absolute owner of wife and children, and could dispense with them according to his sovereign good pleasure. In the Roman Empire we do not see this anymore, but the institution of slavery flourished. In the middle ages slavery was practically abolished to be replaced by the feudalistic state of things, under which the tenant labored for his feudal lord. And finally in our own time the feudalistic state has vanished to make place for the capitalistic form of society. But this cannot be the last stage of historic evolution, for the highest and most perfect form of society is not yet reached. And, therefore, as inevitable as the old Asiatic form was replaced by the Roman, the Roman by the Feudal and the Feudal by the Capitalistic state of things, just as inevitably will the present give birth to the socialistic age in which all private property will be abolished and men shall have all things in common. According to the law of historical evolution the Socialistic era is sure to come even though there were not a single socialist!
Marx also makes bold that he has found the law according to which the capitalistic state of things will inevitably give birth to the socialistic form of society. This law he has developed in his theory of “surplus value.” The implication of this theory is briefly as follows. The only standard by which the value of any commodity can be measured is labor. It is labor that gives any commodity on the market its real value. But of this value the laborer that does the work, and who, therefore, is the rightful owner of the entire value of the article receives but a small portion, while the rest goes to the capitalist. Now, if you subtract from the real value, the market-price of any commodity that part which the laborer receives for his work, the remainder is what Marx calls the “surplus value.” This remainder goes to the capitalist. And since the capitalist puts this remainder in his pocket, capital is nothing but an accumulation of surplus value, or if you please, capital is simply an accumulation of money that rightfully belongs to the workingman. But just because of this fact, the capitalist will in the end accomplish his own destruction. He does not exert himself for his possessions. He grows rich while sleeping. He grows wealthier and wealthier in idleness, but thus he becomes morally and physically weaker. He will wax more careless as time goes on. Moreover on account of keen competition in the industrial and business world, the smaller capitalist will gradually be swallowed up by the larger and more powerful, so that they will gradually decrease in number. This state of affairs must continue for a while, must become still worse. The accumulation of capital has to assume greater proportions still; concentration of trade in the few must develop further; the oppression of the proletariat must become more unbearable. All this will continue, till at last there will be but very few capitalists who have all the world in their control, and who besides, having grown rich in idleness are morally degenerate and physically weak. But this is the very dawn of a new day. For this will be the moment, when the toiling and suffering proletarians of all the world, will rise as one man, snatch all power and wealth away from the hands of their oppressors and take the control of the world into their own hands. Then private property shall be abolished forever, and peace and bliss shall reign in the world during this socialistic millennium, for there will be beasts of prey no more.
And, therefore, also according to Marx no great, bloody political revolution is necessary to accomplish the change. All that is necessary is that the gospel of socialism be preached to all men, and the hearts and minds of the people, especially of the proletariat be prepared for the new and surely coming order. Religion must be silenced, and art must take its place to satisfy the desire of man’s inmost heart. Meanwhile we must keep calm and abide the right moment. For the socialistic state of things will surely constitute the climax, the ultimate termination of all history, the consummation of all things! It will surely come according to the inevitable law of historical evolution.
Such is the theory that is commonly known as Marxism. It is an exposition and criticism of capital and a prophecy of its certain doom. And since historical evolution by natural and material laws, it is no less an exposition of socialism. For according to these laws the inevitable tendency of capitalism is towards socialism. His theory has been severely criticized, and as a matter of fact it is at least nominally rejected by many modern socialists, especially because of its advocacy of a passive attitude. But in spite of all this, modern socialism is still deeply influenced by Marxism, and in principle Bolshevism is nothing but this very Marxism. And after all the definition may not be so far from being correct, which would hold that Socialism is nothing but communism as it has been influenced and molded by Marxian philosophy.
It was not our purpose to pass criticism on the tremendous movement. Especially of late socialism has been its own condemnation in the eyes, at least of all Christian people, because of the manner in which it reveals itself. Neither do I think that rank socialism is our greatest danger. Whenever the devil reveals himself as plainly as he does thru manifest socialism in the world, he is easily recognized, and no child of God is apt to shake hands with him and make common cause. And therefore, a few words will suffice. In the first place, then, it may be asserted that from a mere economic point of view there are some elements in socialism which may readily be approved, but which ought never to blindfold us to its real character. We too must absolutely condemn the greedy accumulation of wealth on the part of the rich, at the expense of the laborer; we too must protest against the concentration of business and industry, which leaves no standing room for the smaller man; we too may labor for improvement of social conditions in this world, according to right and justice. And never should we become such blind antagonists of socialism as to be mere defenders of sinful capitalism. The one is as sinful as the other. But as I have already said, this admission must never close our eyes to the real character of all socialism. For in principle socialism is a denial of all that is dear to us according to God’s Word. It involves a denial of God and His Sovereignty, who assigns to each one his place in the economy of this dispensation, and has instituted government to punish the evil-doer. It is a denial of the fact of sin, and seeks to find the origin of all evil in outward conditions, especially in private property. It is a denial of the spiritual at the expense of the material; it is an emphasis on the present at the expense of the future; it maintains that man’s only happiness must be found in this dispensation, and that it must be realized thru material things. It is, in short a denial of all that is dear to our hearts. It is a terrible red monster, dangerous to the state, dangerous to society, dangerous to the church and to the people of God’s kingdom. And every child of God should stand diametrically opposed to all that calls itself socialist. A Christian-socialist is a contradiction in terms.