November 7 marked the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, touching off worldwide events mourning or celebrating the event. At its centenary, Communism deserves to be remembered as the most successful false religion to take root in the West in two millennia, unparalleled in the swiftness of its destruction and unequaled in its potential to generate misery from abundance.
Communism determined to overthrow the entire Judeo-Christian cosmology 100 years ago today. Karl Marx’s promise of an earthly bliss – in which an all-powerful state instituted by violent revolution suddenly withers away – demanded an abundance of faith. Yet that pales in comparison to its promises for the human race. Leon Trotsky wrote in Literature and Revolution that New Soviet Man would “raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.”
Communist man … will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.
Marxism matched Messianic pretensions with all the accoutrements of a religion. “Bolshevism,” wrote Bertrand Russell, is “a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures.” Placards of Soviet leaders replaced religious icons. The calendar filled with mock holy days. Acton’s John Couretas has noted that anthems to Stalin incorporated poetic elements of Byzantine Christian hymns.
Communism: The second-oldest faith
By 1949, its deserters branded Communism The God that Failed. No apostate better exposed the nature of Marxism than Whittaker Chambers, who wrote in Witness that Communism is “man’s second oldest faith”:
Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. … The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. … Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.
With the denial of the West’s God came the repudiation of His moral code enjoining murder, lying, or violation of private property – especially Church property. For instance in 1931, newly socialist-dominated Spain passed a new constitution despoiling religious orders. It imposed upon monks and nuns a “ban on exercising industry, commerce, or education” until such time as “their assets will be nationalized and [redistributed] to charitable and educational ends.”
Then followed their mass rape and murder of clergy – a process not spared the faithful. Ismael Virto was six years old when a socialist mob barged into his home at the outset the Spanish Civil War. “They took whatever weapons we had,” he remembered. “But then they saw it, and we knew we were [in danger]: My grandfather had a life-sized crucifix in his bedroom. And to these guys, the Church was their enemy.” Anne Applebaum writes in her new book, Red Famine, that the same door-to-door ransacking preceded Ukraine’s Holodomor.
Once the state seized all means of self-preservation, liquidation began. Communism claimed approximately 100 million souls in less than a century. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) places a reasonable range anywhere from 42,870,000 to 161,990,000. And in nations such as North Korea, the toll continues to climb.
Death is demanded by this heresy’s secular demonology. For people of faith, supernatural forces influence the children of Eve in an unseen warfare that ceases only in the peace of the heavenly kingdom. Materialists, whether of the totalitarian “Right” or “Left,” seek to erect their utopia on earth. Their demons are flesh and blood – the bourgeoisie, the Jews, “lower” races – who must be obliterated for its inauguration. Observing this, Chambers concluded that “God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom.”
Despite its economic failure and appeal to strife, more Millennials prefer socialism than capitalism; 23 percent called Stalin a “hero.” Meanwhile, a Russian poll named Stalin that nation’s most admired man, with Lenin ranking third. At every point in between, Che Guevara’s mock icon adorns everything from college dorm rooms to a new Irish stamp.
The predictable pathology of persecution
Young people must understand the predictable pathology of persecution: First, collectivists gain absolute power within the state. Then, they strip people of faith of the means to protect themselves, both literally (by seizing weapons) and potentially (through wealth redistribution). The velvet hammer then falls upon the helpless victims.
The faith that built Western civilization endorses economic exertion as a means allowing every person to provide for self and others. It believes, in John Locke’s phrase, that government may not without due process take away “what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.”
More than that, true religion sees work a means of temporal and eternal sanctification. The Orthodox saint Justin Popovic (d. 1979) wrote:
God works and man collaborates; God creates through man and man creates through God; here the divine creation is continued through man. To this end, man brings out of himself all that is divine and puts it into action, creation and life. In this creativity, all that is divine, not only in man but also in the world around him, is expressed and brought into action; all that is divine is active, and all that is human joins in this activity.
Heavenly bliss, in any realm, comes about “only by theanthropic means: through the evangelical virtues of faith and love, hope and prayer, fasting and humility, meekness and compassion, love for God and one’s fellow-man.”
A complementary economic order leaves rational man free to choose how to offer this sacred service. The unique path of each person’s sanctity are a mystery implanted by God and for each individual to discover. In giving the gift of freedom, it respects the defining value of the West: the inviolable and infinite value of every human person who, by virtue of bearing the image and likeness of God, has been raised to inestimable heights.
Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.