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Berdyaev. Communism in Russia Category: Texts Kingdom of God will come

The Religion of Communism
Nikolai Berdyaev


Men's attitude as regards Communism has been, up till now, rather emotional than intellectual. The psychological atmosphere has been very unfavourable to an understanding of the ideological world in which Communism moves. Among Russian emigrants it has roused a passionate emotional reaction such as one might expect from wounded people; there are too many who, on being asked what Communism is, could answer, "My own shattered life and unhappy lot." In Western Europe men's attitude is characterised either by bourgeois fright and the bourgeois reaction of the capitalist world, or by the superficial and irresponsible toying with Bolshevism (a snobbish fad, for the most part) indulged in by some intellectuals. But hardly anyone has taken the ideology of Communism, the Communist faith, seriously.

The most remarkable of Russian philosophers in the nineteenth century, a Christian philosopher, Vladimir Solovyev, once said that to defeat what is false in Socialism one must recognise what is true in it. The same must be said of Communism, which is one of the extreme forms of Socialism. In Communism there is a great untruth, an anti-Christian untruth, but it also contains much truth, and even many truths. In Communism there are many truths which one might formulate in a whole series of paragraphs, and only one untruth; but that untruth is so enormous that it outweighs all the truths and spoils them.

Communism should have a very special significance for Christians, for it is a reminder and denouncement of an unfulfilled duty, of the fact that the Christian ideal has not been achieved. Christian justice has not worked itself out fully in life, and in virtue of the mysterious ways of Divine Providence the forces of evil have undertaken the task of realising social justice. That is the spiritual meaning of all revolutions, their mysterious "dialectics." Christian "good" has become too conventional and rhetorical, and so the carrying out of certain elements of that "good" which is proclaimed in theory but very inadequately achieved in practice, is undertaken in a spirit of terrible reaction against Christianity. The sin and baseness of Christians, or, rather, of false Christians, have shut off and darkened the light of Christian revelation. Throughout almost all its later history, the Christian world has been infected by a sorry duality; Christians have lived, so to speak, in two different rhythms, the religious rhythm of the Church, governing a limited number of days and hours in their life, and the unreligious rhythm of the world, governing a greater number. The greater part of their life has not been enlightened and sanctified by the Truth of Christ. The most unjustified and unenlightened aspect of it has been economic life, social life, which has been abandoned to its own law. Economic life in capitalist societies is not subjected to any higher religious and moral principle. Marx was right when he said that capitalist society is an anarchical one. Its collective life is determined by the free play of private interests, and there is nothing more opposed to the spirit of Christianity than the spirit of a capitalist society. It is not by mere chance that the epoch of capitalism has coincided with abandonment of Christianity and a weakening of Christian spiritual idealism. And the idea of Communism, which in our day oppresses and persecutes all religions and all churches, is of religious and even Christian origin. It was not always materialist and atheist; in the past it had in it a religious and spiritual note. It must be remembered that the first Communist, the first to trace the outline of the Communist Utopia, was Plato; that there was a primitive Christian Communism, founded on the Gospel; that there existed a religious type of Communism in the Middle Ages and at the time of the Reformation; that Thomas More, the author of the Utopia, is numbered by the Catholic Church among the Blessed; that the Communist and Socialist movements of the early nineteenth century in France were of a spiritual and even religious character, though vague and indefinite. The very word "Communism" comes from communion, commonness, mutual participation, and such a spiritual community between men presupposes that they partake of some single, higher source of life — God. Only in God and in Christ is real communion among men attainable; brotherhood is only possible under one and the same Father. It is true that modern Communists aim at obtaining community by an exterior, mechanical, obligatory organisation of society.[1] But the idea itself — communion, sharing among men — that is, Communism in the deeper sense of the word — is the great eternal dream of mankind.

The tragedy is that materialistic Communism is easier to achieve than Christian Communism. One can attempt to bring it into being by means of violence and imposition, without taking into account men's spiritual freedom and sinfulness. By such means spiritual community is unattainable, yet it is possible to create a new organisation of society. But Christianity recognises spiritual freedom and therefore it cannot believe in a forcible organisation of community. When Christendom attempted to organise it in the form of mediaeval theocracy, ignoring liberty, it broke up and the design was condemned to failure. Christianity recognises the inherent value of human personality, and is incapable of organising a society in which personality is humiliated and denied. Materialistic Communism rejects the value and meaning of human personality, and so its task is lighter. But when Communists accuse Christianity of not having realised itself in actual life and freed humanity from evil and suffering, they fail to see and understand the most important thing of all — the freedom of the human spirit, and the impossibility of organising a perfect society by external, mechanical, forcible means, and of doing away with sin.

It is, however, true that some limit must be set to the prevalence of sin in social life, and that Christians must strain their wills towards the transfiguration of society in the spirit of Christ. It is nothing but a hypocritical fallacy when conservative bourgeois Christianity argues that to transfigure and improve human society and introduce greater justice into it is impossible, because of the sinfulness of human nature. In reality the attempt to do so is not imperative because we are optimistic about human nature after the manner of Rousseau, but precisely because we are pessimistic about it and consider that some order must be set up that will put a limit to the outbreak of sin in social life. It is the bourgeois ideology born of capitalism which has been optimistic, and believed in a natural harmony arising out of the conflict of private interests. Communism is possible, and universal Communism may one day be possible, not at all as the result of human nature's sinlessness, but precisely because of its sinfulness. And society will be radically rearranged by the forces of sin, if truth does not trouble to do the rearrangement. Utopias are much more capable of being carried out than has been so far believed. Sin itself can very well realise a Utopia. But the guilt and responsibility for the evil which that will involve will fall both on "good" turned into mere rhetoric, and on "thegood" who were capable of judging others but no longer capable of judging themselves. Communism, in its sinister and Godless form, is the fate of so-called "Christian" societies and at the same time a reminder, the judgment which those societies did not want to pass on themselves and which will therefore be passed upon them. And that is why it is so difficult to distinguish, in Communism, between truth and untruth.

The honour of having discovered Communism does not belong to the Russian people; they received it from the West. But they undoubtedly have the honour of its first incarnation in actual life. And so we come to the question of what constitutes the attractiveness of Communism, why it is so infectious, why its ideas were victorious in the Russian Revolution, and why the Communist creed moves masses and creates enthusiasm.[2] Now, it is impossible to understand that if Communism is considered merely as a political and economic phenomenon and subjected to rational criticism from the standpoint of political economy. Communism, both as a theory and as a practice, is not only a social phenomenon, but also a spiritual and religious phenomenon. And it is formidable precisely as a religion. It is as a religion that it opposes Christianity and aims at ousting it; it gives in to the temptations Christ refused, the changing of stones into bread and the kingdom of this world.

As a social system, Communism could be neutral towards religion. But, like every religion, it carries with it an all-embracing relation to life, decides all its fundamental questions, and claims to give a meaning to everything; it has its dogmas and its dogmatic morals, publishes its catechisms, has even the beginnings of its own cult; it takes possession of the whole soul and calls forth enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Unlike most political parties, it will not admit secularised politics, divorced from an all-embracing Weltanschauung. Its un-human activity is, as it were, an explosion of religious energy stored up in the human soul by a lengthy religious process. If the Communists succeeded, by anti-religious propaganda, in finally tearing from the heart of man all religious feeling, faith, and readiness for self-sacrifice in the name of faith, they would make faith in Communism impossible too; they would put an end to their own existence and nobody would be left who was willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the Communist idea.

Thus even in the name of an anti-Christian idea they make use of the Christian formation of the soul, the Christian capacity for faith and sacrifice. There is no denying the deplorable fact that Christians themselves, in the bourgeois period of history, have given proof of much less energy and power of self-sacrifice than the Communists. The figures of the great saints and ascetics were pushed back into the remote past; Christianity has been going through an unheroical, decadent period and thereby preparing the successes of Communism. It is an undeniable fact, quite impossible to conceal, that the youth of Soviet Russia are sincerely and unconditionally fired with enthusiasm for Communism. We see it in the energy which the Communist youth voluntarily expends for the realisation of the Five Years' Plan.

Theoretically, Communism is Marxism; Marxism is the obligatory creed of the Communist party. Can Marxism, a doctrine well known in the West, help one to understand the attractiveness of the Communist idea? But Marxism is also the basis of the German Social Democratic Party, in which one can perceive very little enthusiasm and abnegation; it is a business-like, moderate party, very unlike a religious movement, and by no means fanatical. The complication and difficulty of understanding Russian Communism lies partly in the fact that it is at once an international worldwide phenomenon and a national Russian one. In it the rationalistic doctrine of Marxism has been broken up by the irrational Russian element and deformed. Here we find something of a process that is repeated in all great revolutions. Revolutions are brought on by irrational elemental forces generated in the obscure subconscious life of the people; and yet at the same time they always aim at rationalising life and take their stand on some rational doctrine that becomes their conventional war-cry. The French Revolution, for example, drew its inspiration from the rationalistic "enlightened" philosophy of the eighteenth century, but the active forces in it were demoniacal and irrational. And the Russian Communist Revolution is absolutely intent on rationalising life completely so that every irrational element and every mystery is utterly driven out of it; yet it also is moved, and moved with the utmost intensity, by irrational demoniacal elements, for which the rationalistic doctrine serves merely as a conventional system of symbols. It is not at all the rationalistic, objective, scientific elements of Marxism that are at work in Russian Communism, but the mythological and religious elements. This curious combination of the rational and irrational element in the Russian Revolution actually gave rise to a legend, which is popular among the simple people, peasants, workmen and middle classes, that there is a distinction between Bolshevism and Communism. Bolshevism is held to be a purely Russian thing, a popular thing, an outbreak of revolution on the part of the Russian people, whereas Communism is a foreign thing that has come in from outside and bound the popular Revolution with the chains of rational organisation. And there is a real distinction between the irrational and rational elements in the Revolution, corresponding to that conventional distinction between the two terms. A revolutionary idea always includes some rational element, and in this case it is taken from Marxism. The question is: What is there in Marxism that can sweep on and inspire the masses into a vast and powerful movement?


At the basis of Marxism lies the theory of economic or historical materialism, according to which the entire process of history and social life is determined by economics, by the development of material productive forces, and by the various forms of production and exchange.

Economics are the "basis" of all life, its primordial authentic reality, whereas all the rest, all "ideology," spiritual life, religious belief, philosophy, morals, art, all the culture which man considers to be the flower of life, is a "superstructure," an epiphenomenon, a fallacious and illusory reflection in man's consciousness of the real economic processes. Marx is not the only thinker who has insisted on the overwhelming importance of economics, that is, of the degree of mastery over the elemental forces of Nature which socially organised man has reached; other historians and Utopian Socialists did so before him — Saint Simon, for example, who anticipated Marx in many respects. But Marx made the idea into a system of universal economic metaphysics, and he combined his economic metaphysics or ontology (i.e., his teaching on the nature of being, on the ultimate reality) with the doctrine of the class struggle, which is the special "discovery," or rather "revelation," of his own genius. This last had also been spoken of before him by a more modest science, history; but the idea of the proletariat's messianic vocation belongs to Marx alone. The theory of economic materialism by itself could not be an inspiration for anyone: a doctrine according to which all human life is determined by economic processes is rather a sad one, apt to make a man drop his hands in despondency. But Marx by no means limits himself to that unhappy truth. He is pessimistic about the past, which is seen by him in its very darkest colours, but he is an optimist as regards the future, in which he sees nothing but the brightest. Marx and Engels teach that mankind can jump from the realm of necessity into that of freedom. It is only the past that has been a realm of necessity determined by economics. The future will bring in the realm of freedom; social reason will finally vanquish all the irrational, elemental forces of Nature and society, and social man will become the mighty king of the universe.

In prodigious contradiction with his own materialism, Marx believes in the "dialectics" inherited from Hegel. He believes that the "dialectic process" will inevitably lead through evil to good, through the meaningless to the triumph of meaning. Hegel's dialectics are connected with the idea of a universal Logos: in them the Logos, the Meaning of the universe, must infallibly triumph. The world-process, for Hegel, is "dialectic" because it is a "logical" process, a self-revelation of Intelligence; dialectics of its parts are only possible as the result of their being absorbed into the logical heart of the whole. There is not the slightest possibility of translating such panlogical dialectics into the language of materialism, for matter is ignorant of the Logos and the triumph of Meaning. Yet Marx lays down a system of materialistic dialectics, and he is able to do so because he introduces the panlogical principle into the heart of matter itself, into the material economic process. He believes that that process will lead through the struggle of contradictory forces into the triumph of Meaning, Reason, Logos — to the realm of freedom, to Order, to victory over the necessity introduced by the elemental irrational forces of Nature. A mad belief: for it remains incomprehensible why the elemental, material, economic process does not lead to the complete triumph of meaninglessness, slavery and darkness; such a process is by nature irrational and can guarantee no triumph of reason. Yet Marx looks ahead to a perfect Communist society which will be the very incarnation of reason, justice and order; there will be nothing irrational, nothing unjust in it; life will be rationalised once and for ever — the triumph of panlogism. In Marx we find an astounding combination: an acute feeling and consciousness of a furious struggle between demoniacal, irrational forces in history (they remind one of the violent forces which Jakob Bohme perceived struggling at opposite poles in the life of the universe), and an absolute conviction that reason, meaning, justice, order and organisation will be victorious in social life. Such an inconceivable combination of demoniacal social irrationalism and social "panlogism," such a blackening of the past and brilliant concept of the future, are attractive features of his system. Moreover, the brilliant future is inevitable, the realm of freedom is pre-determined. In the future the elemental economic principle will have no more power over the life of human societies, which will be determined by social reason in its victory over every other element. The dialectics of the material process lead infallibly to the Kingdom of God on earth (but without God), to the realm of freedom, justice and power. By itself the theory of economic materialism would be unable to enlist enthusiasm; it would merely remain one out of many scientific hypotheses. What does rouse enthusiasm is Marx's messianic faith. It finds its complete expression in the idea of the proletariat's messianic vocation. The aspect of Marxism which looks forward to the future Socialist society and to the great mission of the proletariat has nothing in common with science — it is a faith, "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not." Marx's "proletariat" and his perfect Socialist society are "invisible things," an object of faith. Here we are in contact with a religious idea.

According to Marx, the basis of the historical process is not only economics, the development of material productive forces (that alone could not rouse much feeling), but also the class-struggle. All the violence of Marxism is founded on the notion of that struggle. It is its subjective aspect; its scale of values is connected with it. And undoubtedly Marx's very idea of a class is "axiological," conceived in terms of intrinsic value. The distinction between "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie" unwittingly coincides with that between "good" and "evil." In his conscious thought Marx remains a complete amoralist, but his teaching on the class struggle is moralistic through and through — with a curious negative kind of moralism. There is no good or justice, but there is evil and injustice. And they arouse indignation and hatred. He believes in an original sin lying at the basis of human society, the sin of one man's exploiting another, which always takes the shape of class exploiting class. Marx wants to give "exploiting" a purely economic character: he combines the idea with the theory of an additional price extorted from the workers and appropriated by the exploiting classes. But, philosophically speaking, it is obvious that the idea cannot be purely economic: it is necessarily ethical. When we say that exploiting is practised, we make a moral judgment. If the amoralist denial of the distinction between good and evil is accepted, it is incomprehensible why the exploiting of man by man should call forth revolt and condemnation as an injustice. Marxism is an extreme form of determinist philosophy, despising every moral appreciation. For it, moral freedom is non-existent. Nevertheless it implies at its basis the idea of original sin — an original sin which infects all the history of the world, all classes of society, and disfigures all human beliefs and every form of ideology.

The sin of exploitation cuts off all possibility of apprehending truth and creates an illusory doctrine to maintain and justify itself. Economic realities receive an illusory expression in men's consciousness — such is Marx's fundamental idea. He is forced to regard as illusory all former ideas and beliefs. In their fundamental principle Marx and Freud are not far apart. Both aim at unmasking the illusory nature of man's conscious life, its deception and untruth; and behind that illusion, deception and untruth of consciousness they see certain unconscious impulses, which Marx holds to be economic class interests and exploiting, and Freud libido, sexual impulses and the complexes they give rise to. Marx has not yet discovered the sub-conscious mind; his psychology is rationalistic; but he aims continually at unmasking the lie of consciousness, of conscious ideas and theories. Now, a man who unmasks the lie and illusion of consciousness must himself be conscious of having the truth and know by what means truth can vanquish untruth, and reality defeat illusion. And so Marx believes that the historical moment has come when truth is to be at last revealed. At last he has succeeded in unmasking illusion and revealing truth, in finding the key to the understanding of the world's history, in discovering the secret of the life of human societies. Truth is revealed to him, light enlightens the darkness that engulfed all the past, because in his person the class which is called to be the liberator of mankind thinks and perceives the truth. Relativity is overcome; proletarian truth is no mere reflex of economics, but an absolute truth. Every social class has been infected in various ways by the sin of exploiting and therefore shut off from the truth. The very organisation of society on a class basis reflected man's weakness, his dependence on the elemental forces of Nature and of society itself; for a society founded on the class struggle is enslaved to irrational forces and has no power over its own self. Religious beliefs merely reflect the weakness and helplessness of man against those natural forces, the low development of material productive forces, and man's dependence on his neighbour, man's slavery. And then capitalist society takes shape. Marx considers it to be society's wickedest and most unjust form, in which one class exploits another to the utmost limit. Yet, at the same time, such a society develops mankind's productive forces, generates power, and brings into life a new class unknown to past history, the proletariat.

The proletariat is the only class that is innocent of the original sin of exploitation. It is the class that produces all the material treasures and goods on which human society lives. It is exploited and crushed: the most disinherited class, deprived of the means of production, living in servile dependence on Capital. But in it there grows up a force, a collective power, that will be revealed when capitalist society has crashed to its doom. The proletariat is a messianic class; its vocation is to be the liberator of all mankind, it is even identified with true humanity, it is already not merely a class, for it is outgrowing the society which includes it as a class. Truth is being revealed to it and it is already introducing justice in virtue of its social position. The messianic concept of the proletariat includes the freeing of the oppressed, that is, the achievement of social justice, and the attainment of might and power by a socially organised humanity. With the proletariat's victory social rationalism will utterly triumph and master the irrational forces of the world. Its victory will bring with it the final rationalisation of life, a final regulation and ordering; everything irrational, obscure and mysterious will be banished from life. The anarchy which Marx perceived in capitalist society will come to an end. The proletariat is clothed in all the virtues.

Now, it is perfectly clear that Marx's "proletariat" is not the empirical working class which we observe in actual life. It is a mythical idea, not an objective reality. Marx's proletarian myth resembles J. J. Rousseau's democratic myth, but its content is radically different, for proletarian Communism is opposed on principle to formal democracy. The myth of the proletariat has an active force, it is intensely dynamic and explosive. The "proletariat" category conceived by Marx is above all axiological, appreciative. The "proletariat" is a mythical notion and, at the same time, the supreme value, good and justice — a positive power. The distinction between "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie" does not record an empirical fact observed as such in actual existence; it is, first and foremost, an appreciation, a judgment. There is a strong axiological element in the whole Marxian theory of the class struggle. Marx would never have arrived at his concept of a class and especially of the proletariat, if he had not introduced into it an estimate of loftiness and baseness, "good" and "evil." For Marxism, like every extreme revolutionary ideology, contains an unconscious survival of dualistic Manichean tendencies, of the sharp opposition between the kingdom of a good god and that of an evil god. That dualism will be overcome with the victory of the proletariat. But the most important aspect of Marx's teaching concerning the proletariat's messianic vocation is the fact that he applied to the proletariat the characteristics of God's chosen people. Marx was a Jew; he had abandoned the faith of his fathers, but the messianic expectation of Israel remained in his subconscious-ness. The subconscious is always stronger than the conscious, and for him the proletariat is a new Israel, God's chosen people, the liberator and builder of an earthly kingdom that is to come. His proletarian Communism is a secularised form of the ancient Jewish chiliasm. A Chosen Class takes the place of the chosen people. It was impossible to reach such a notion by means of science. It is an idea of a religious kind. Here we have the very marrow of the Communist religion. For a messianic consciousness is surely always of ancient Hebrew origin; it is foreign to Hellenic thought. And such is Russian messianic consciousness also. Messianic feeling, messianic consciousness, imparts an enormous power; it inspires, calls forth enthusiasm, incites to self-sacrifice. And it is this which inspires the Socialist Labour movement. If it has grown weak in the Socialist Democratic movement, if that movement has taken on a bourgeois tone, in Communism such messianic consciousness is very strong indeed. Communists have an acute feeling that a fatal hour of history has arrived, a worldwide catastrophe, after which a new era will begin for mankind. Only such a feeling as that can make their unhuman energy and activity possible. The Marxist theory of a catastrophe of capitalist society is nothing else but faith in the certain coming of the Last Judgment. Revolutionary Communism has a very strong eschatological element in it. The time and hour are nigh, a gap in time is approaching. That is what the chief theorist of "religious socialism" in Germany, Tillich, expresses by the word Kairos: a kind of intrusion of eternity into time. Marxism is quite incapable of expressing it in terms of its superficial materialist philosophy, but it is just what lies in its underground, its subconsciousness. And that is what its force consists in. Here lies the unwinding of the chain of determinism: a break appears in evolution, a leap from the realm of necessity into that of freedom; history ends and super-history begins.

In the Russian Revolution a meeting and union of two messianic consciousnesses took place, that of the proletariat and that of the Russian people. The Russian people become, as it were, identified with the proletariat, though, of course, the coincidence is by no means an objective fact. The previous essay showed the messianic feeling which for centuries possessed the Russian people. It was shown there how it suffered a tragic shock in the religious schism of the seventeenth century and took on new shapes in the extreme sects; how it found its way into the upper cultured class of the nineteenth, among Russian writers and thinkers; how it remained in a secularised form among the Russian revolutionaries of the nineteenth century; and how it is found in an extreme form in the anarchist Bakunin. Dostoievsky expressed the same messianic feeling in his idea of the Russians as the "God-bearing" people. When K. Leontyev lost faith in a positive religious vocation of the Russian people, he began to believe that it was destined to give birth to anti-Christ: in other words it is messianic, but in an evil sense. And in its latest form, not only secularised but even made completely Godless, Russian mes-sianism appears in Bolshevism, in Communism. Russian Communism believes that Light will come out of the East, that the light of the Russian Revolution will illuminate the bourgeois darkness of the West. The Russian people did not achieve their ancient dream of Moscow, the Third Rome. Imperial Russia was very far from resembling a Third Rome. But, instead of the Third Rome, they have established the Third International. And in that Third International a sinister combination has taken place between the Russian national messianic idea and the international proletarian messianic idea. That is why the Russian Revolution, inspired by the proletarian international idea, is none the less a Russian national revolution. The Communist religion is not of Russian origin, but it has been reflected in a peculiar way in the Russian religious type, which is characterised by an eschatological expectation of the advent of God's Kingdom on earth.


What is true in Communism? One can lay down a whole series of assertions in which truth is on its side. First of all there is its negative truth, its criticism of the falsehood of bourgeois capitalist civilisation, of its contradictions and diseases. Then there is the truth of its denouncement of a degenerate, decadent pseudo-Christianity, adapted to the interests of the bourgeois epoch of history. But there is also positive truth in its scheme for organising and regulating the economic life of society, on which men's lives depend, and which can no longer be abandoned to the free play of individual interests and arbitrariness. The idea of methodically planning out the norms of economic life is, on principle, a right idea. The liberal principle of formal freedom in such matters produces enormous injustices and deprives a considerable portion of humanity of all real liberty. The truth contained in Communism is that society ought to be a working society of labourers, and that the working-classes ought to be called to play their part in history and share its culture (though it is true that Communism has not a right understanding of the qualitative hierarchy of labour). The Russian Communists who pasted up the slogan "If any man will not work, neither let him eat" on every fence in Soviet Russia probably did not suspect that those words belong to St. Paul the Apostle. Communism is right when it declares that man should not exploit man and class exploit class. Man's mastery over Nature's elements ought not to lead to the dominating of his neighbour. It is true that the dissociation of society into classes struggling against each other must be overcome, and that classes should be replaced by professions. It is true that political organs ought to represent men's real economic needs and interests, and therefore be arranged on a basis of profession and labour. That truth is connected with Communism's criticism of democracy as a form of political life. Politics should serve economics:[3] it is social realism that demands it. It is true that political life should go hand in hand with a complete consistent philosophy of life; for politics without a soul, without some great idea, cannot enliven the souls of men. It is true that theory and practice should be united in some all-embracing entire type of culture and life. The upper cultured class, the elite, cannot remain detached from social life, deprived of a social basis; it should serve the social whole. Finally, it is true that national selfishness and isolation, producing hostility and war, should be overcome by some supernational organisation of mankind.

Communism states before the whole world the great problem of its radical social reconstruction. The whole world is burning, thirsting for transformation, seeking a new and better life. The strength of Communism lies in its having a complete design for reconstructing the world's life, in which theory and practice, thought and will are at one. And in that respect it resembles the theocratic design of the Middle Ages. For Communism subjects the life of individual man to a great, worldwide, super-individual end. It goes back again to the concept of life as a service — an idea completely lost in the de-Christianised, bourgeois liberal epoch. Every young man feels he is building up a new world. It may very well be the building of the Tower of Babel, but it fills the life of the very least among men with something super-individual which sweeps him on and sustains him. Economics are no longer a private affair, they are a world affair. Man is being forcibly freed from private life, he is reconstructing the world. Communism denies individual man, but it accepts collective man as omnipotent. Every human being is called to reconstruct the world collectively. The weight of the past, of history and tradition, which are so strong in the West, is thrown aside. It is as though the creation of the earth were beginning afresh. The very freedom of the Western nations prevents the radical reconstruction of the world; there the preservation of the status quo gives a feeling of freedom, while change is felt as its violation. Nevertheless, Communism has no idea of freedom as the possibility of choice, of turning to right or left, but only as the possibility of giving full play to one's energy when once one has chosen which way to turn. Freedom of choice seems to it to be a freedom that weakens and saps energy. If one compares Soviet Russia with France, for instance, one can say that the first is a land of coercion, while the latter is one of liberty. Yet in a land of liberty it is very difficult to reform social life; the very principle of formal freedom has become a conservative principle. That is one of the paradoxes of freedom.

The Russian Revolution has given proof of enormous vital strength. But its force cannot be entirely attributed to Communism, which is merely its conventional formula; it is above all the vital strength of the Russian people, a force formerly held in leash and now unchained. But the untruth in Communism is greater than its truth. It has even disfigured that truth. It is above all a spiritual, not a social falseness. What is false and terrible is the very spirit of Communism. Its spirit is the negation of spirit, the negation of the spiritual principle in man. Its untruth is its rejection of God. Everything flows from that source. Godlessness cannot go unpunished. Communism is inhuman, for denial of God leads to denial of man. Communism has not stopped midway in the transitional realm of humanism. It has denied God not in the name of man, as generally happens, but in the name of a third principle — the social collectivity, its new divinity; and consequently it has also denied what it calls the Christian "myth," whereas Humanism did not get as far as its logical, complete rejection. For the Christian "myth" is not only about God but also about man; it is a theandric "myth." At first men tried to get rid of only one half of it, the "myth" about God, leaving the "myth" about man intact. The idea of man's central, supreme position is a remains of the Christian "myth." Man'is God's idea, God's creation, the image and likeness of God. That constitutes his supreme dignity and absolute significance. The dialectics of the humanistic process were such that at first men denied God, but still left His image and likeness in man and based man's absolute significance on that resemblance. That is brought out with extraordinary strength and acuity in Feuerbach's anthropological philosophy. He denied God and put anthropology in the place of theology; but man, for him, is still endowed with divine attributes. Man creates God in his own image and likeness — which is merely an inversion of the Christian truth that God created man in His. The Christian "myth" about man is kept by Feuerbach; his philosophy is Godless, but not inhuman. The anthropological myth is still Christian in origin. Now Marx followed up Feuerbach, and adopted all the arguments of his atheism, but he went much further in his destruction of the Christian theandric "myth." He no longer has Feuerbach's faith in man as a divinity. He proclaims a doctrine that is not anthropocentric, but sociocentric or proletariocentric. His man has lost the image and likeness of God; he is the image and likeness of society. He is entirely a product of his social surroundings, of the economics of his epoch and the class to which he belongs. Man is a function of society and even, more precisely, of a class. Man does not exist; only his class exists. And when classes have ceased to exist, man too will cease to exist; there will only be the social collectivity, Communist society.

Such is the final result of the denial of God, of His image and likeness in man, of the spiritual principle in man. All the negative aspects of Communism follow from that. It is social idolatry. Rejection of the living God always leads to the creation of false gods. The social collectivity which receives divine honours steps into the place of both God and man. The centre of consciousness is shifted. There is no more personal conscience, personal reason, no more personal freedom. There is only collective conscience, reason, freedom. A very instructive example in this connection is Trotsky's autobiography, very self-centred but also a work of great talent, which witnesses to the dramatic fate of revolutionary personality in the revolutionary collectivity. After Lenin, Trotsky is the chief creator of the Bolshevik Revolution. He is a very typical revolutionary. But he is not a genuine Communist, a Communist through and through. He still admits the possibility of individual opinion, individual criticism, individual initiative; he believes in the part to be played by heroic revolutionary personalities and counts himself, of course, among their number. He does not grasp what one may call the mysticism of collectivity — the most unpleasant side of Communism.

All the untruths of Communism come from its Godlessness and inhumanity; the falseness of the sanguinary coercion by which it wants to found social justice, the falseness of the tyranny that cannot bear man's dignity; its admission of every conceivable means to further the end it considers as supreme and unique; rancour, hatred and revenge as a way of obtaining perfect life, the brotherhood of men. There was a demoniacal element in Marx's teaching, which gave it its invincible dynamism. He believed that good can be produced by evil, that light can be obtained through darkness, that freedom would result from dire blind necessity. Evil must increase, darkness must thicken. That is how he understood the dialectics of the social process. The workmen's lot must grow worse in capitalist society (the Verelendungstheorie), the labourers must become more and more embittered and penetrated by vindicative and violent emotions. That is the basis of Marx's revolutionary messianic hope. He wants the working class, which is an empirical reality, to be saturated with proletarian consciousness. When that happens, feelings of resentment, envy, hatred and revenge will grow up in it.

A "worker" must be distinguished from a "proletarian." A workman is a labourer, and labour is sacred; his lot is a hard one, and must be improved, one must struggle to free the workers from slavery. But a proletarian is not simply a workman, he is a workman full of the messianic idea of the proletariat and its future power. The proletariat is not an empirical reality at all; it is an idea. And in that aspect Marxism, which consciously professes the most naive materialism, is an extreme idealism. It wants to subject reality to an "idea," and that "idea" coerces and cripples reality. One must not take Communism's materialist appearance too literally; it is conventional, a mere struggle against religion and Christianity. In reality Communism is highly spiritual and idealist. Its very materialism is spiritual and idealist, matter itself hardly plays any part in it. And its spirituality is a dark, Godless spirituality. One must accuse Communists of being men of an "idea" too much, not too little. Living personality does not exist for them. No doubt Communism is characterised by an extreme obsession with economics, amounting to a perfect nightmare, which oppresses life and crushes out all its other aspects. The Soviet Communist Press is filled with nothing but economics, it contains nothing else at all. But it is a very peculiar kind of economics; they are spiritual and metaphysical economics, that take the place of God and spiritual life and reveal real being, the essence of things.

Economics are no invention of Marx, any more than materialism is. The latter he got from enlightened bourgeois society of the eighteenth century, the former from capitalist society of the nineteenth. But Marxism gave economics a metaphysical and even religious colouring. The messianic hope is bound up with them. The Five Years' Plan, whose prosaic object is to industrialise Russia and which, objectively, is not Socialism at all, but State capitalism, is experienced as a religious emotion. The hierarchy of values had already been spoilt by bourgeois capitalism, which denied the superiority of spiritual values. It had already witnessed a qualitative lowering of the level of culture; it was a society that worshipped Mammon. And the unique importance that technical science acquires in Communist "construction" is inherited from industrial capitalist civilisation, and is often an imitation of America. But in Communism the passion for technical science assumes an ominous eschatological note. Communism is torn by a fundamental contradiction; it is inspired by a vast idea of reconstructing the world; it rouses inhuman energy in men and fills them with enthusiasm, and yet at the same time it creates a grey, dull earthly paradise, a realm of bureaucracy, in which everything will be rationalised and there will be no more mystery and infinity. Economics turn out to be man's only province; outside them there is no longer any life, any being. The death-blow is given once and for ever to the great ideas of God and Man, and with them the whole content of human life falls, leaving only economics and technical science.

It is impossible to understand Communism if one sees in it only a social system. But one can comprehend the passionate tone of anti-religious propaganda and persecution in Soviet Russia, if one sees Communism as a religion that is striving to take the place of Christianity. Only a religion is characterised by the claim to possess absolute truth; no political or economic movement can claim that. Only a religion can be exclusive. Only a religion has a catechism which is obligatory for everyone. Only a religion can claim to possess the very depths of the human soul. No political programme or State can lay down such a claim. Communism persecutes all religions because it is itself a religion. Recognising itself as the one true religion, it cannot suffer other false religions alongside of it. Besides, it is a religion that aims at making its way into life by force and coercion, taking no account of the freedom of the human spirit. It is the religion of the Kingdom of this world, the last and final denial of the other world, of every kind of spirituality. That is precisely the reason why its very materialism becomes spiritual and mystic. The Communist State is quite different from the ordinary lay, secularised State. It is a sacred, "theocratic" State, which takes over the functions that belong to the church. It forms men's souls, gives them an obligatory creed, demands their whole soul, exacts from them not only "what is Caesar's" but even "what is God's." It is most important to grasp this pseudo-theocratic nature of the Communist State. Its whole structure is determined by it. It is a system of extreme social monism, in which there is no distinction between State, society and church. Therefore, such a State cannot tolerate any church alongside of it, or if it tolerates any it is only temporarily and for opportunist reasons. The old Christian theocratic State was also unable to bear any other religion or church competing with it. That was in essential contradiction with Christian spiritual freedom and so contributed to the break-up of theocracy. But communistic "theocracy" is more consistent with itself, for spiritual freedom is no part of the faith that inspires it.

Christianity has not put its truth into full living practice. It has found its realisation either in conventional formulae or in theocracies which deliberately ignore freedom (which is the fundamental condition of any genuine realisation), or it has practised a system of duality, as in modern history, when its power has weakened. And therefore Communism has made its appearance as a punishment and a reminder, as a perversion of some genuine truth. Communism contains an eschatological element. The Apocalypse does not only signify the revelation that history is ended. There is an apocalypse within history too. The end is always nigh, time is always on the verge of eternity. The world of our day is by no means an absolutely closed world; but there are times when that cessation of time in the presence of eternity is felt with greater acuteness. The eschatological element means not only judgment passed on history, but also judgment passed in history. And Communism is a judgment of that kind. The truth that refused to realise itself in beauty, in divine beauty, is carried out in ugliness.

Here we stand before a vitally interesting phenomenon. The Russian Communists are the first men in history who have attempted to introduce the Communist idea into real life.[4] But how did they enter into life, with what spiritual features, with what sort of expression on their faces? They entered it with a look of unheard-of spiritual and moral ugliness, of unprecedented gracelessness. The grace of beauty did not light up their entry upon the scene of life. That is why Communists are so resentful; they are irritated by the fact that they produce such an impression of indecency. Everything about them turned out to be disfigured: an ugly expression on their faces, hideous gestures, an odiously ignoble turn of mind, the monstrous atmosphere of revolutionary life in Soviet Russia. The thing has a profound ontological meaning. There may well be a great deal of social truth in Communism. I am convinced that there is. But the deformity it acquires when once that truth is put into practice means that it is mixed with a great deal of untruth, that God has stood aside from the path it has chosen for its realisation. Ugliness is always a sign of ontological corruption. For genuine, enlightened, transfigured being, full of grace, is beautiful. The Russian Communist Revolution has nothing of those fine theatrical gestures and splendid feats of rhetoric that marked the great French Revolution. The Russian people are not theatrical or rhetorical. Lenin wrote and spoke on purpose in an ugly coarse manner, without the slightest ornament; it was typical of the asceticism and poverty of Russian Nihilism. Trotsky seems to be the one and only man in the Russian Revolution who is fond of fine gesture and theatrical effect, and wants to preserve the beauty which the figure of a revolutionary implies. And yet the hideousness of Russian Communists has also its positive aspect. It expresses the truth that they have abandoned truth, the untruth in their way of practising truth. Which does not mean, of course, that beauty always characterises those who oppose Communism.


With what must one oppose Communism? How should one struggle against it? The way men usually oppose it and struggle against it is calculated rather to strengthen Communism than to weaken it. It gives new arguments to its defenders. For what is most terrible in it is the mixture of truth and falsehood. It cannot be opposed by any sort of Restoration, by the capitalist society and bourgeois civilisation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Individualistic and liberal principles are already outlived; they have no more vital force left. When a relative principle claims absolute significance, what one needs to set against it is above all a real absolute principle, not some other relative principles likewise claiming absolute significance. When a time revolts against eternity, the only thing to set against it is genuine eternity itself, and not some other time which has already roused, and not without reason, a violent reaction against itself. It is no use opposing Communism with ideas; it can only be done with religious realities. Marxism has given the lie to exalted ideas as they appear in history. It is false, not because exalted ideas govern history (for the old humanism is done for), but because God exists as a tremendous reality, and strength and the last word belong to Him.

The only thing to pit against integral Communism, materialistic Communism, is integral Christianity: not rhetorical, tattered, decadent Christianity, but renascent Christianity, working out its eternal truth towards consistent life, consistent culture, consistent social justice.

The whole future of Christian societies depends on whether Christianity or, rather, Christians decisively leave off supporting capitalism and social injustice: on whether the Christian world sets to work, in the name of God and of Christ, to put into practice that justice which the Communists are now introducing in the name of a Godless collectivity, an earthly paradise. If the labouring classes have become an exceptionally favourable breeding-ground for the poison of Godlessness, if militant atheism has become nothing less than "opium for the people," the guilt must be attributed first of all by no means only to the agitators of revolutionary Socialism, but also to the Christians, to the old Christian world. It is not Christianity, of course, that is to blame, but Christians: they are too often pseudo-Christians.

Good which does not work itself into life, which has turned into conventional rhetoric so as to hide actual real evil and injustice, cannot avoid raising revolt, and righteous revolt, against its own self. The Christians of our bourgeois epoch of history have created most painful associations in the minds of the working-class; they have not done Christ's mission to the souls of the oppressed and exploited a harm that can with difficulty be remedied. The situation of the Christian world face to face with Communism is not merely that of the depository of eternal and absolute truth, but also that of a guilty world, which has not practised the truth it possesses, but rather turned traitor to it. Communists do practise their truth and they can always oppose that fact to Christians. Of course, Christian truth is much harder to carry out than Communist truth. Much more, not less, is demanded of Christians than of Communists, of materialists. And if Christians carry out less, and not more, Christian truth itself is not to blame. The historical tragedy is that genuine Christianity can, apparently, never obtain complete mastery and power in this world. Mastery and power have only belonged to pseudo-Christianity. The world turns away from integral Christianity.

Meanwhile Christianity is the only basis on which a solution can be found for the painful conflict between personality and society, which Communism resolves in favour of society completely crushing personality. And it is also the only basis on which a solution can be found for the no less painful conflict between the aristocratic and democratic principles in culture, resolved by Communism in favour of completely overthrowing the aristocratic principle. On a basis of irreligion, either aristocracy oppresses and exploits democracy or democracy vulgarises

the souls of men, lowers the cultural level, and destroys nobility.

Integral Christianity can accept all that is true in Communism and reject all that is false. If there is not a Christian revival in the world, a rebirth not only among the ilite but also among the great masses of the people, atheistic Communism will conquer over the whole earth. Will that happen? We cannot tell; it is the secret of man's freewill. There is no reason to be very optimistic. Christianity has still to undertake the creation of a new type of sanctity among the very dregs of the world. The future belongs, whatever happens, to the working classes, to the workers; it is inevitable, and it is just. And all depends on what their spirit will be: in whose name will they renew life, in the name of God and of Christ, of the spiritual principle in man, or in the name of Antichrist, of divinised matter, in the name of a divinised human collectivity, in which the very image of man disappears, and the human soul expires? The Russian people have stated the problem before the whole world.

[1] The German sociologist Tonnies draws a fruitful distinction between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft, but he only speaks in terms of naturalist sociology.

[2] It is only as regards the very first stage of the Revolution that one can explain the popularity of Communism by the fact that it flatters the masses, connives in their instincts and interests, and calls upon them to "rob the robbers."

[3] In Russian Communism politics dominate economics at present, which is in flagrant contradiction with Marxism. But that is a characteristic of revolutionary dictatorship, not an ideal of normal social order.

[4] Before them there had been no more than partial outbreaks of Communism.

Nikolai Berdyaev
The Russian Revolution
First published in 1931

See also



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