In 1999, Harvard University Press published The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, revealing a “tragedy of planetary dimensions.” It documented the untold atrocities of communism and all the people whose lives and livelihood were crushed by the dictatorship of the proletariat from Stalin’s gulag, to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, to the dictatorships of the proletariat established all over Eastern-Central Europe. Any serious reader of The Black Book of Communism would never buy into the evil of communism: the oppression, the culture of death, and the class struggle the system generated. One would expect that “the door to Utopia” of socialism and communism would have effectively closed for good.
But this did not happen: the idea of the socialist and communist utopia has made a comeback. In a recent book entitled The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism’s Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration, Dr. Paul Kengor, professor of political science at Grove City College and senior director and chief academic fellow at the college’s Institute for Faith and Freedom, provides a sophisticated and well-documented analysis of communism by going to the source: Karl Marx. Dr. Kengor recently corresponded about his book and the demonic forces at work in the life and thought of Marx.
CWR: According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 45% of Americans say they would vote for a socialist for president. This is a considerable number and socialist views have been making a steady comeback after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Did the comeback of socialism urge you to publish the book?
Paul Kengor: It has prompted me to write many books on the subject, and countless articles. This is a pattern I’ve watched develop for 30 years, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
For about 20 years I’ve traveled around the country giving talks on campuses with titles like, “Why Communism Is Bad,” sponsored by the likes of the wonderful Young America’s Foundation. I’ve watched and warned that the post-Cold War generation was not learning the lessons of the Cold War and of the destruction of communism and socialism and this latest twaddle that bills itself as “democratic socialism.” I’ve observed the numbers climb yearly in support of these ridiculous philosophies, and I’ve pleaded with people (especially parents, and particularly Catholic-Christian parents) not to send their kids to these awful secular universities. They didn’t listen. Now, we have an entire generation of young people born after the Berlin Wall (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was literally an infant when the Berlin Wall fell) who have been completely miseducated about the horrors of Marxism and socialism.
They’ve learned little to nothing about how bad Marxism and Marx were. And now we’re paying the price.
CWR: There are philosophers (Umberto Galimberti, for example) who still maintain that Marx was a great Christian because for him the past was social injustice, the present made the contradictions of capitalism explode, and justice will be established only in the future. Is this the case, according to your findings?
Paul Kengor: Those who make that claim exhibit profound ignorance. Frankly, it is shocking, truly hard to believe. It is flatly and factually incorrect and utterly and wholly indefensible. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, and the founders of the American Communist Party would disagree with them. And obviously, the Roman Catholic Church would disagree with them. If they’d like, they can grab a highlighter and start highlighting passage after passage and quote after quote in my book underlining examples.
“Communism begins where atheism begins,” said Karl Marx. Of Christianity, Marx added: “The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility. The social principles of Christianity are hypocritical…. So much for the social principles of Christianity.”
The Roman Catholic Church condemned communism as a “satanic scourge” conceived by “the sons of darkness.” Of socialism, in 1931 Pope Pius XI issued his seminal Quadragesimo Anno, where he stated: “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
Even Dorothy Day’s The Catholic Worker insisted: “no true Catholic can be a member of the Communist Party.”
I could go on and on. Those who say that Karl Marx was somehow doing Christian social justice or some such nonsense make fools of themselves.
One of the worst articles I’ve ever seen in the Catholic press was a piece published by the Jesuit America Magazine in the summer of 2019, titled “The Catholic Case for Communism.” I was aghast. Marx and Engels and Lenin would have been aghast as well.
CWR: Why do you think we hear so little about the atrocities of communism?
Paul Kengor: Very simple: Because the political left, which dominates education and especially our universities, does not focus on it. It’s not that typical liberal professors are pro-communist, but, as the late Richard Pipes liked to note, they are anti-anti-communist. They would prefer to condemn anti-communists rather than condemn pro-communists. Communism just doesn’t register very loudly on their outrage meter.
They will scream until they’re blue in the face about gender theory, queer theory, critical theory, “intersectionality,” you name it. But they simply don’t get worked up about the crimes of communism. Besides, in their view, the communists had many “good” intentions.
CWR: For Marx and Marxists, nothing matters but the material world as revealed in the present. Religion is to be eradicated, because it debilitates and opiates the proletariat. Why was Marx so against religion?
Paul Kengor: Marx understood that to initiate the revolution, the Judeo-Christian foundation needed to be razed. The house needed to be burnt to the ground.
In their really important work, The German Ideology, Marx and Engels said that in order to achieve “the success of the cause … it is necessary that man himself should suffer a massive change.” This change must come through “a revolution,” a process of “overthrowing” the old “filthy yoke.” His “generation,” like the Jews whom Moses led out of the wilderness, must “conquer a new world” and “must also perish in order to make room for the people who are fit for a new world.”
But to get there, they had to take down the Judeo-Christian foundation: not just Christianity, but Judaism. “The Israelite faith is repulsive to me,” said Marx. It’s quite telling that in his essay declaring religion “the opium of the people,” Marx said that “the criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism.” Marx had a favorite quote from Goethe’s Faust: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” In a letter to Arnold Ruge he called for the “ruthless criticism of all that exists.”
Beyond ruthless criticism, there was ruthless abolition. The word “abolition” is omnipresent throughout Marx’s writings. As his biographer Robert Payne noted, the word almost seems to jump off every page of the Manifesto.
Marx wanted to burn down the house.
CWR: There is an even darker side of Marx: he was obsessed with the demonic, as expressed in his early poetry. Some scholars have suggested that Marx was possessed by demons. The man who wrote about the specter of communism that was haunting Europe wrote about the specters and monsters haunting him. Can you explain why the demonic side of Marx has been kept secret?
Paul Kengor: I deal with that very carefully, and why Marx’s hagiographers have studiously avoided it. I do not hazard to assess whether Marx was, say, possessed, though others have. “There were times when Marx seemed to be possessed by demons,” recorded Robert Payne in his seminal 1968 biography of Marx—probably the best and most insightful biography of Marx. Payne, a man of arts and literature, not a right-winger, and a respected academic not expected to level such a shocking charge lightly, asserted of Marx: “He had the devil’s view of the world, and the devil’s malignity. Sometimes he seemed to know that he was accomplishing works of evil.” Read my book and you’ll get an exhaustive walk through all of that ugliness. It isn’t pretty.
CWR: The situation in Marx’s household was desperate, to say the least. His wife wished that she and her children were safely in their graves, as their lives on earth were hell. Why? Marx’s sexual relationship with the nursemaid, whom he exploited ruthlessly and never paid for her services, included fulfilling his sexual appetite when his wife was ill. This nursemaid was Marx’s contact with the working class, providing free labor and free sex. Was Marx showcasing what socialism had in store for the working class?
Paul Kengor: I believe so. Karl had a sexual relationship with the young nursemaid, Helene Demuth, known as “Lenchen.” Actually, it isn’t quite right to say that Lenchen worked for the Marx family, given that she toiled without pay, almost as Karl’s chattel. The champion of the proletariat never paid Lenchen a penny.
Karl, who refused to bathe, groom, and suffered from boils all over his body (including his penis), bedded Lenchen behind his wife Jenny’s back. Some biographers have pondered whether this was consensual. Either way, in June 1851, Lenchen gave birth. Marx, being the kind of man he was, never acknowledged the little boy, nor paid a penny of child support. He left all of that to Engels, his chief sap, subsidizer, and sugar-daddy.
Karl’s long-suffering wife was crushed. He already put the poor woman through hell via his refusal to work.
CWR: Marx denied his daughters an education and careers. He looked down upon women. The situation in Marx’s household was so toxic that two of his daughters committed suicide. Was Marx showcasing what socialism had in store for women?
Paul Kengor: I find this so ironic. And feminist Marxists totally ignore it. He lamented to Engels: “My wife, alas, delivered a girl and not a boy.” He later lamented to one of his daughters, who likewise gave birth to a girl: “I congratulate you on the happy delivery…. I prefer the ‘male’ sex among children who will be born at this turning point in history.”
Marx’s daughters lived lives of hopelessness and despair. In fact, four of Marx’s six children died before he did. Marx’s two surviving daughters committed suicide in joint suicide pacts with their husbands. Imagine that. Oh, and Marx wrote about suicide pacts in his devilish poetry.
CWR: Marx is considered to be a racist and anti-Semite. His ugly statements against blacks and Jews are notorious. He denigrated his son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, of Cuban origin, as “Negrillo” and called him a “Gorilla.” Why did Marx despise blacks and Jews when, in fact, he and his family were of Jewish origin converted to Christianity? Why the self-hate?
Paul Kengor: Here’s a quick pop quiz for you: Who said this? “This union of Jew and German on a Negro base was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid.” Or this: “[He] has the blemish customarily found in the negro tribe—no sense of shame, by which I mean shame about making a fool of oneself.” Answer: No, not the grand wizard of the KKK, but Karl Marx. He was wickedly racist.
Another pop quiz. Who said this? “The emancipation of the Jews, in the final analysis, is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” No, not Hitler. Karl Marx.
In his seminal edited volume on Karl Marx and religion, Saul Padover said that Marx represented “what the Germans call Selbsthass (self-hate), a trait which Karl Marx displayed throughout his whole life.”
I recently wrote an article asking why our wondrous progressives in the cancel culture haven’t canceled Karl Marx. He was a bigot, a racist, an anti-Semite, and a sexist. Why does Marx get a pass? Answer: because the left likes him.
CWR: Why was the Roman Catholic Church so vehemently against communism, opposing this lethal ideology, even before the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848? How did communist ideology infiltrate into Roman Catholic seminaries?
Paul Kengor: This is a major part of the book, and perhaps one of the most halting sections of the book for churchgoing Christians. Part 4 is called “Infiltration and Manipulation.” It includes six chapters on the very deliberate and cynical infiltration of churches by communists in the United States, Western and Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. Communists had striking success with the penetration of the mainline Protestant denominations, particularly the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and what became Presbyterian Church USA.
Emboldened by those successes, communists then went after the Roman Catholic Church in the 1930s, specifically via Communist Party USA’s so-called “outstretched hand” effort. I publish a 1937 secret memo from Communist Party USA (it was held in the Soviet Comintern Archives on CPUSA) in which the comrades in New York City salivated like Pavlov’s dogs over the numbers before them: 18 million Catholics in America, and 80,000 simply between New York’s 110th Street and 59th Street. At the height of its membership, the Party never had more than (at best) 100,000 members. American communists figured that if they could pick up even one percent of American Catholics, they would explode their membership rolls and could dramatically undermine parishes from within.
Most troubling, there was an attempt to infiltrate Catholic seminaries. This has been reported over the years (very sloppily so) regarding the organizing efforts of ex-communist and Catholic convert Bella Dodd, who, it has been claimed, attempted to place “over a thousand communist men” in Catholic seminaries. I walk through those claims very carefully. Did she really say that? How might that have been accomplished? Was she capable? Was that even feasible? And, if so, what has been the impact?
Alas, for those answers, you’ll have to get the book!
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