In light of Greg Forster’s Acton lecture on Whittaker Chambers, the famous Soviet spy who later converted to Christianity, I recently noted Chambers’ routine reminders that communism is not, fundamentally, about a certain menu of economic theories or political tactics.
“[Communism] is not just the writings of Marx and Lenin, dialectical materialism, the Politburo, the labor theory of value, the theory of the general strike, the Red Army, the secret police, labor camps, underground conspiracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the technique of the coup d’etat,” Chambers writes in Witness. “It is not even those chanting, bannered millions that stream periodically, like disorganized armies, through the heart of the world’s capitals: These are expressions of Communism, but they are not what Communism is about.”
Rather, Chambers tells us, communism, at its root, is about an effort to remake the world in man’s own image: to “restore man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.” It is, more simply, a “rational faith” as old as the Garden of Eden, “a vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world.”
Unfortunately, that basic reality of communism was not confined to Chambers’ experience with Soviet Russia. In a recent interview with Matt Kibbe, Li Schoolland, a survivor of communist China, emphasizes that same central point, reminding us of Chairman Mao Zedong’s ultimate faith in man and the destruction it brought to China’s people, economy, environment, and overall society. You can watch the interview here:
“Mao’s slogan was that human being will fight the nature and win, so actually it’s fighting God,” Schoolland explains. “God didn’t make the world perfect, so we as humans need to fight and make the world better. That’s his principle…That’s Mao’s strongest slogan…People will definitely win over God.”
Kibbe observes the connection with Hayek’s warnings about the “pretense of knowledge” and “the fatal conceit” of man. In in the stories recounted by Schoolland, we see that this is more than just a theory. When given undue power and authority, such conceits lead to tangible, whole-scale civilizational collapse.
Although our current confrontations with these conceits are typically far more mild in their dedication or effectiveness, we’d do well to remember the root problems with the “rational faith” in man that they rely on.
Communism isn’t just about central planning, and its failures don’t stop with famine, mass starvation, and forced labor. As Chambers and Schoolland remind us, its faith runs much deeper and its destruction goes much farther: oppressing hearts and minds, distorting moral priorities, separating children from families, and contorting life, work, and marriage as mere matters of state loyalty.
As we listen to Schoolland’s stories, we find ourselves asking the same simple question as Chambers: “God or man?” If it is, after all, “necessary to change the world,” as a good communist might say, we should have a pretty clear idea of where not to begin.
Image: Public Domain