When I Read Marx in College
Our professor stood in front of us and told us that Marxism is a precarious school of thought. It has one little flaw but is such a vital one that it causes the whole edifice to collapse into a pile of dust. He then challenged us to find that flaw. He did have to ask us a couple of leading questions to get our thoughts moving the right direction, but once he did the flaw wasn't that hard to find.
The fatal flaw in George Bernard Shaw's shocking Essay on Major Barbara was much harder to find.
Marxism is often summed up in beautiful and altruistic sounding From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need. While there is actually a lot more to it and it involves a study of the cycles of history and economics, this nice sounding statement does sum up the ideal. Who could argue with that from a moral perspective?
I could accept it if men were morally perfect creatures. They are not.
The difficulty is that the typical human is self-centered and will consider their own needs and wants first. Most people will look to the needs of others only after their needs are satisfied. There are of course exceptions but these are a small minority. While most adults will feed their children first, most will not feed another until they themselves are filled and secure.
Now there is more to this. People are also basically lazy and will usually take the path of ease and least resistance as far as they are able to. Of course there are exceptions but these are few. Most people will get what they need by the easiest method possible for them. This is from nature where an animal not only has to struggle to survive, but, because food is not always available in the wild, must conserve as much energy as possible. The animal aspect of man carries this same thing and the more a human leans toward the animal side of his nature the more he will act in this way.
A little thought and you can see where this leads. We take the maxim from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs and attempt to make it a reality. Now everyone is guaranteed a certain standard of living regardless of what they do. By simple human nature a person will do as little as possible to get this standard of living. Needs will become maximized in most people while abilities become minimized. Why work hard if you don't have to? Why do so if there is no exceptional and tangible reward? Everyone gets the same regardless of what they do so why bother?
While we were studying Marx in Civ class we were simultaneously reading Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon in lit class and that book had a profound effect on me. It said that the early Bolsheviks ran into precisely this problem when farmers refused to simply give up their harvests to the state and the state had to resort to brutal methods to collect the harvest for redistribution. After that the farmers were much less zealous in their work and Russian agriculture never really did meet its full potential. (actually the book doesn't say Russia but everyone knows who they meant.)
Now the early Christians had what in the original Greek was called koinonia which is similar to socialism but the differences are deep and profound. Koinonia was encouraged but optional as no one was forced to share. (The episode with Ananias and Sapphira was about lying and claiming a virtue you don't have, not failure to share.) Also the person who was giving the wealth to be distributed had a lot of say in where it was going and what was being done with it. (The person giving the wealth could say that a certain person or group did not deserve assistance.) Finally mature Christians are more likely to work for the whole than just themselves as compared to people who lean more to the animal side of their nature. In fact, in my life experience, the most generous people I know despise Marx and Socialism. These virtues do exist in many non-Christians but there are so many that don't have them, sadly including some Christians, that a whole society based on it is impossible.
Fellow bloger Z at her blog geeeeeZ! had a cute posting about a beggar and a waiter both carrying Obama paraphernalia and the writer's response to it and it hit the nail right on the head, especially this comment by a commenter:
The waiter can afford to lose one $10 tip for an educational experience. But he can have even more fun...
If the waiter makes $35,000 per year and loses one $10 tip per day (in a 5 day work week) then he would only lose $2,600 per year, leaving him with $32,400. That wouldnt require any considerable change in his lifestyle.
If there are 15 waiters at the restaurant who donate $10/each per day, that would be $39,000/year which could be redistributed to the homeless person.
This way the waiters can work extra hard to make up the slight loss of income, while the homeless man does nothing to earn a living better than they have.
That is of course, until one of the waiters catches on and quits his job to demand that the other waiters support him as well.
That is precisely why Marxism will never work.