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The impact of Marxism and critical theories on modern culture and politics

Updated: Nov 23

Marxism, a socio-political and economic theory originated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century, fundamentally challenges the structures of capitalist society. It emphasizes the struggle between the "proletariat" (working class / oppressed) and the "bourgeoisie" (capitalist class / oppressors), advocating for a classless society where the means of production are communally owned. The historical context of Marxism is rooted in the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by rapid industrialization and significant socio-economic disparities. Marx's critique of capitalism and his vision for a communist future has had a profound impact on global political and social movements.

Marxism, when viewed from an economic perspective, is a method for achieving communism via a process called "dialectical materialism" (we'll expand on this later).

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

Marxism, at its core, is an intricate blend of philosophical, economic, and political ideas that seek to understand and change the world. Economically, Marxism is critical of the way capitalism organizes production and distribution, arguing that it leads to exploitation and class struggle. This is due to the capitalist system's reliance on wage labour, where workers sell their labour for a wage but do not own the products of their labour or the means of production (like factories, machines, etc.), leading to a profit that is mostly appropriated by the owners, or capitalists. Politically, Marx and Engels advocated for the working class's revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist class, leading to a dictatorship of the working class as a transitional phase towards a classless, stateless society: communism. In this envisioned society, wealth and production would be communally controlled, aiming to eliminate class distinctions.

Marxism also includes a methodology for analyzing society, economies, and history, known as dialectical materialism. This methodology asserts that material conditions and economic activities are the primary influencers in shaping societies and that these conditions are in a constant state of change due to contradictions and conflicts, leading to revolutionary shifts. Overall, Marxism is not just a critique of capitalism but a proposal for a radical reorganization of society through the lens of class struggle and economic reformation.

Dialectical materialism

Dialectical materialism forms the philosophical foundation of Marxism. It posits that history is driven by material conditions and economic factors. It views societal progress as a dialectical process where contradictions (like those between oppressors and oppressed classes) lead to conflict, which then leads to the emergence of new societal structures. This dialectic is seen as an inevitable process of historical development.

This historical development is supposed to lead to a "classless", or "fair" society. But these new "societal structures" will invariably lead to the oppression of a new group of people, and the endless cycle continues (we'll speak more on this when we consider a Christian critique of Marxism).

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Critical theories

Marxism's analysis of class struggle has influenced various ideologies and movements that extend the concept of oppression beyond economic class to include other social categories such as race, gender, and sexuality.

When Marxism is applied more broadly, dialecticism takes a slightly more abstract form: General contradictions arise between oppressors and oppressed which leads to conflicts and subsequent reform of the oppressors' ideals.

A critical theory, then, is any approach to humanities and social philosophy that focuses on society and culture to attempt to reveal, critique, and challenge power structures.

Examples of Marxism and critical theories in modern culture and geopolitics

Marxism has had a discernible influence in various contemporary cultural domains, notably in education and in shaping perspectives on social issues.

In general, Marxist strategies might intentionally lead to divisions within a society. By emphasizing the dichotomy between the oppressor and the oppressed (even forcing this dichotomy for the sake of change), Marxist rhetoric can sharpen social and economic divisions. The focus on class struggle as a means to societal change can exacerbate existing societal fractures and create new ones, as the metanarrative becomes one of conflict between classes rather than broader social unity.

The Marxist agenda is pushed forward through these divisions, as they are seen as necessary for the dialectical process of societal transformation. The theory posits that through these conflicts and divisions, a new class consciousness will emerge, leading to the revolutionary overthrow of existing structures.

(A) Economics

Marxism proposes a transformative approach to changing a capitalist Western society, a process deeply rooted in its fundamental principles of dialectical materialism and class struggle. The Marxist approach to societal change is not incremental but revolutionary, aiming for a radical reorganization of society's economic and social structures.

A key step in the Marxist approach is to heighten class consciousness among the working class. This involves making the working class aware of their supposed exploitation under capitalism and their role in the economic structure of society. Marxists believe that once the working class recognizes their collective strength and the nature of their exploitation, they will be motivated to pursue revolutionary change. This could involve organizing labour movements, strikes, and protests to challenge the power of the oppressor and to disrupt the existing economic order.

A recent example of Marxist policies applied in economies is when Zimbabwe forcefully ousted their "oppressors", and took control of the means of production (i.e., land), and subsequently turned into a failed state. Read more.

(B) Education

The incorporation of Marxist theory in education can have complex consequences. While this approach aims to foster a critical understanding of societal inequalities and power dynamics, it may also lead to a scepticism or distrust of all forms of authority. The focus on class struggle and the critique of existing power structures, foundational to Marxist thought, can lead students to question not just specific instances of authority or power but the very concept of authority itself. The ramifications of this for society are severe: Rampant atheism (as all religious authority is rejected) and anarchy (as all forms of government are rejected).

Listen to the closing of some high-school debates to see the Marxist underpinnings taught to children.

(C) LGBTQ-ism

The influence of Marxist ideas within the LGBTQ+ movement can be seen in how some activists frame their struggle against gender and sexual oppression. These activists often employ a Marxist lens to analyze societal structures, viewing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights as part of a broader struggle against various forms of oppression. This perspective is rooted in the Marxist critique of power structures and class struggle, but it extends beyond economic class to encompass issues of gender and sexuality.

In this context, the intersection of Marxism with LGBTQ+ activism can lead to critiques of institutions and ideologies perceived as reinforcing traditional gender roles and sexual norms, including certain Christian values and teachings. For instance, Marxist-influenced LGBTQ+ activists view the traditional Christian teachings on marriage, gender roles, and sexuality as part of the broader societal structures that perpetuate inequality and oppression. From this perspective, the advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance becomes a challenge to established norms and power dynamics that are seen as oppressive.

(D) Modern war and geopolitical issues

In international conflicts like the Israel-Palestine and Ukraine wars, Marxist perspectives can influence how these conflicts are interpreted and understood. From a Marxist viewpoint, these conflicts might be seen through the prism of imperialism, global power dynamics, and the struggles of oppressed peoples against dominant power structures. This perspective can lead to a particular emphasis on the plight of those viewed as oppressed, potentially framing their actions as part of a larger struggle against oppression, regardless of the complexity of these conflicts.

[Note: Some letters are redacted for SEO purposes] A very concrete example of this was seen when Os**a B*n L***n's "A Letter to America" started trending on TikTok in late 2023: Some individuals (mostly young people) are re-evaluating the U.S.'s role in global conflicts and the Israel-Hamas war after reading Os**a B*n L***n's letter. Why re-evaluate those historical events? This can at least in part be attributed to modern Marxist influences on the youth. Language like "oppressor" "oppressed", "occupier" and "occupied" permeates the videos on TikTok. Some went so far as to say that "bl**ing *p the WTC was the most defensible thing he did".

(E) Policing

The concept of "double-policing" or a "two-tiered" legal system can sometimes emerge in societies influenced by Marxist thought, particularly in the context of social and political protests. This phenomenon arises from the Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed, which can be adopted by certain protest groups to frame their actions. When protesters identify themselves as the oppressed class, they might perceive their actions, even those involving civil disobedience or vandalism, as justifiable acts in their struggle against oppression. This perspective can lead to a call for, or expectation of, more leniency from law enforcement and the legal system, under the premise that their actions are a form of resistance against systemic injustice. Police, when applying the law to this sub-group of people, are called "brutal", and "oppressing", with many officers subsequently being prosecuted themselves.

In contrast, when individuals or groups seen as part of the "oppressor" class engage in similar forms of protest, their actions are often viewed through a different lens. They might be perceived as efforts to maintain or reinforce existing power structures. Police might not be as afraid to apply the law to them, as they don't claim to be oppressed (or at least are not seen as an oppressed group by the current meta-narrative). This leads to a disparity in treatment by the justice system and reflects a deeper ideological conflict about the legitimacy of different forms of protest and resistance, depending on who is engaging in them and the causes they are associated with.

While the preceding might seem like an oversimplification, it does offer insights into certain phenomena observed in the Western world. The increasing frequency of riots, the defacing of statues, and the destruction of public and private property often seem to occur with minimal consequences for those involved: A key factor in this dynamic could be the self-identification of many participants in these activities as belonging to an "oppressed" class, a perspective frequently aligned with Marxist thought (like the LGBTQ community, BLM etc.). This identification is often used to rationalize the use of force or extreme measures in pursuit of their goals. When authorities intervene, these actions are perceived as further oppression, potentially escalating the situation into mass riots or anarchy. This then fosters hesitancy among law enforcement agencies to apply legal measures uniformly, resulting in an apparent reluctance to enforce the law as rigorously on groups associated with Marxist ideologies as on other groups.

Examples of the above can be seen in the recent Pro-Palestinian riots in London, and the Portland unrests in the US prompted by the death of George Floyd.

A concrete example of a consistently Marxist movement

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa, under their Marxist underpinnings, present an interesting case study of how Marxist ideology influences various facets of their political agenda, including economic views, support for the LGBTQ+ community, and stance on international issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict. They also host a FAQ on Marxism on their website. The examples outlined in the section are equally applicable to the African National Congress (ANC), although to a lesser extent.

In South Africa, the EFF have garnered significant criticism for their political positions. However, it's important to understand that critiques directed at them, or any other Marxist-influenced entity, must thoughtfully engage with their underlying Marxist philosophy to be effective. Suffice it to say, that the current mainstream critique of their movement does not address their Marxism, which just makes them more militant. When critiquing Marxists, if the approach is not nuanced or fails to address the core of Marxist thought, it might be perceived merely as an extension of the "oppressor-oppressed" dynamic they oppose. This perception stems from the central Marxist view that society is fundamentally divided into oppressors and the oppressed, a lens through which all critiques are often interpreted. As a result, a critique that does not acknowledge and address this foundational belief may be dismissed as just another form of perceived oppression, or as an attempt by the "oppressor" class to maintain their status quo. To foster meaningful dialogue and critique, it's essential to recognize and address these deeply ingrained perspectives that shape the Marxist worldview. The same can be said about the Democratic party in the United States or any other leftist party that has been severely influenced by Marxist thought and critical theories.

In the next few sections, we attempt to outline how Marxism might influence key talking points of the EFF, without necessarily being their only driving factor.

(A) Economic views

In line with Marxist principles, the EFF advocates for the nationalization of key industries and resources, such as mines and banks, as well as land expropriation without compensation. This aligns with the Marxist goal of abolishing private ownership of the means of production and ensuring collective ownership by the working class.

They also emphasize the redistribution of wealth to address the economic disparities in South Africa, a stance rooted in the Marxist critique of capitalism and its supposed inequalities.

(B) Support for LGBTQ-ism and stance on gender issues

The EFF is against the oppression of anyone based on their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation, meaning that we are against patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia in all of its manifestations. We are also against tribalism and religious and cultural intolerance. We oppose any cultural or religious practices that promote the oppression of anyone, especially groups that have been historically oppressed by such practices.

EFF founding manifesto

EFF national spokesperson Sinawo Thambo said the [Ugandan anti-LGBT] bill which has sailed through Uganda’s Parliament is “inhumane”.

Anti-LGBT law: Malema to lead EFF protest in support of Uganda’s LGBTI people to its high commission in Pretoria

The EFF's support for LGBTQ+ rights can be seen as an extension of the Marxist principle of fighting against all forms of oppression. While traditional Marxism focuses primarily on class struggle, the EFF, like many contemporary Marxist-influenced groups, expands this struggle to include issues of gender and sexuality.

The EFF's stance aligns with the Marxist critique of societal norms and structures that they believe perpetuate inequality, which in this case includes challenging heteronormative and traditional gender norms.

(C) Support for Palestine

The EFF's support for Palestine over Israel in the Israel-Palestine conflict reflects a typical Marxist anti-imperialist worldview. This perspective views the plight of the Palestinians as a struggle against oppression and imperialism, akin to the class struggle central to Marxist thought.

Consistent with Marxist ideology's focus on supporting oppressed classes, the EFF's support for Palestine can be seen as an expression of solidarity with a people they perceive as oppressed in a geopolitical struggle.

(D) Support for Russia

The EFF's support for Russia can be understood through a historical and ideological lens, particularly in the context of Russia's past support for oppressed people in South Africa during apartheid and its perceived lack of an imperialistic history compared to Western powers.

During the apartheid era in South Africa, the Soviet Union (Russia's predecessor) was a significant supporter of anti-apartheid movements, including the African National Congress (ANC). The Soviet Union provided political support, training, and resources to anti-apartheid activists and "freedom fighters". This historical solidarity has a lasting impact on how contemporary parties like the EFF view Russia. They see Russia not as an imperial power, but as a historical ally that stood with the oppressed in South Africa during a critical period of their struggle for freedom and equality.

In modern geopolitics, Russia positions itself as a challenger to Western hegemony and as a supporter of alternative global power structures. For the EFF, aligning with Russia can be seen as a continuation of their anti-imperialist stance, positioning themselves against what they perceive as ongoing Western dominance and influence in global affairs, including in Africa.

Economic and moral implications of Marxism on a society

(A) Economic implications

In many 20th-century interpretations and applications of Marxism, especially in the Soviet Union and similar regimes, "ownership by the people" was practically translated into state ownership and control. The state, in these cases, was supposed to act in the interests of the people, managing resources and production on their behalf. However, this often led to a concentration of power in the state apparatus, rather than the direct, democratic control of production by the working class as originally envisioned in Marxist theory.

It's not hard to see how rampant corruption can ensue once the state, "acting on behalf of the people" takes over a country's resources and production. Marxism can become a vehicle for "state capture", in the sense that a country's resources and economy are captured and subsequently misused for the benefit of a select few people. This isn't necessarily a feature of pure Marxism, but inevitable once practical implementation occurs. This is especially a big risk if those pushing the Marxist agenda have a personal history of extreme corruption and "looting".

It is interesting that the parties in South Africa with the biggest Marxist influences also turn out to be the most corrupt. Marxism might simply be a vehicle (method) these parties use to convince the masses about a "coming revolution" that will bring prosperity, only then use their support to take control of the country's economy and loot it for their personal gain.

(B) Moral implications

Marxism, as a socio-political ideology, seeks to upend existing societal structures, including those rooted in traditional religious and gender norms. In this context, a Marxist revolution could potentially lead to the overthrow of traditionally Christian societies. This isn't necessarily to substitute them with Islam or atheism (although the leftist support of Islam is worrying, and understandable given a Marxist framework), but rather to diminish the influence of religion in the public sphere, as Marxism typically advocates for a secular state where religion does not play a central role in governance.

Regarding gender roles, Marxism's emphasis on "equality" and its critique of traditional power structures could encourage the dismantling of established gender norms, potentially leading to greater acceptance and integration of LGBTQ identities and perspectives. This shift can be seen as part of a broader post-modernist tendency, which challenges absolute narratives and authority structures.

Within a post-modernist society shaped by Marxist principles, the dismantling of traditional hierarchies and norms becomes a central theme. This shift places a heightened focus on individual perspectives and subjective truths, diverging from a singular, universally accepted moral or social framework. Such a transformation fosters a societal landscape where personal beliefs and values gain precedence, guiding individual actions and decisions. This scenario mirrors the ethos of the time of the Judges (in the Bible), where societal conduct was predominantly determined by personal discernment of what was right, as opposed to adherence to an objective moral code.

The consequence of the above can be summarized in a single word: Moral anarchy.

Problems with Marxism

While history is replete with examples of oppressors and the oppressed, it is overly simplistic and potentially misleading to universally apply this framework to contemporary ethical and political issues, as is often suggested by Marxist thought. This binary view of society (categorizing individuals and groups strictly as either oppressors or oppressed) risks oversimplifying the intricate tapestry of socio-political dynamics. Such a perspective can obscure the nuanced motivations, historical contexts, and individual experiences that shape human actions and societal developments. it also completely disregards the motivations of individuals, solely judging them by their "group". By adhering rigidly to this dichotomy, there's a danger of overlooking critical subtleties and complexities that are essential for a thorough understanding of social phenomena. For example, can we truly categorically condemn either Russia or Ukraine when it comes to their current conflict, or can we categorically condemn Israel for what's happening in Gaza right now based purely on a Marxist analysis (as some are calling for all over the world)?

Furthermore, the Marxist approach could inadvertently lead to a skewed sense of justice, where certain actions or ideologies are judged not on their inherent merits or faults but based on their perceived alignment with the interests of the 'oppressed' or the 'oppressors.' This could result in an unjust leniency towards actions or policies that, under a more nuanced and detailed examination, might be recognized as fundamentally unjust or harmful. Therefore, while acknowledging the historical prevalence of oppression is crucial, applying this framework universally without careful consideration can lead to incomplete or distorted understandings of modern social and political issues. Marxism, with its emphasis on class struggle and power dynamics, can sometimes result in a phenomenon akin to "doublethink". This occurs when individuals find themselves advocating for multiple groups whose interests or values might inherently contradict each other. An illustrative example is the simultaneous support for both the LGBTQ movement and Palestinian rights. While both groups may be perceived as oppressed under Marxist analysis, there is a notable conflict in values and beliefs, particularly considering the prevalent anti-LGBTQ sentiment in many Middle Eastern Muslim-majority societies. How is then possible to consistently support both, if either would oppress the other if they were to live in the same society?

This dichotomy raises critical questions about the foundations of our philosophical and political stances. Should our support for various groups be primarily based on their perceived power status (as per Marxism), or should it be rooted in consistent moral values and truths? Furthermore, the issue becomes even more complex when considering the potential shifts in power dynamics. If individuals or groups traditionally viewed as oppressed gain power, does the nature of our support change? For example, in South Africa (after the 1994 election) the government has become oppressive against a racial minority. Should Marxists now support the currently impressed (minority) people even though they were perceived to be the oppressors 30 years ago? Surely it cannot be this simple? Shouldn't we judge governments, individuals and groups of people based on objective moral virtue, rationality and sound reasoning?

A Christian critique of Marxism, and the cure

The critique of Marxism from a theological standpoint often centres on the fundamental belief in the supreme authority of God, which is viewed as immutable and beyond human challenge. God is not merely another subject imposing personal views on others. Rather, He is the Creator, distinct and unparalleled in His existence. The structures within creation are thus seen as divinely ordained. Marxism, with its emphasis on dismantling existing power structures and hierarchies, can be interpreted as a form of rebellion against these God-established orders (like the binary nature of gender, and the legitimacy of Earthly governments). From this viewpoint, such rebellion is not just a political or social transgression but transcends into the realm of spiritual injustice and sin. This perspective holds that human attempts to radically restructure or overthrow these divinely set systems, as proposed in Marxist ideology, are not just futile but morally and spiritually problematic, going against the inherent order and authority ascribed to God.

The root cause of injustices in the world is not fundamentally an issue of resource distribution or the oppressed / oppressor dichotomy, as Marxism suggests, but rather a consequence of sin. From this perspective, sin is seen as the primary factor driving inequality, injustice, and conflict in human societies. Marxism does not address this deeper, moral and spiritual issue. Therefore it is incapable of truly resolving the core problems plaguing humanity.

The Bible speaks of the "rich" exploiting the "poor", specifically in James 5

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

James 5, 1-6

However, this isn't a call for a Marxist revolution. It's a warning of coming judgment for those who exploit others for the purpose of self-indulgence.

In Marxist theory, the oppressed are expected to rise up against their oppressors. However, from a Christian viewpoint, without a fundamental change in human hearts, those who were once oppressed will become oppressors themselves, perpetuating the cycle of injustice (the South African story is a prime example of this). This cycle of sin and oppression is unbreakable through solely political or economic means. Marxism thus presents a very nihilistic and depressing worldview.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the true solution. The transformative power of the Gospel changes hearts and minds, leading to genuine repentance and moral renewal. It is through this spiritual transformation that a healthy, just, and lasting society can be built. This society would be founded not on the shifting sands of human ideology, but on the solid rock of divine truth and love, embodying objective principles of justice, mercy, and humility that are central to the Christian faith as revealed to us in God's Word, the Bible. In this view, the ultimate answer to the world's problems lies not in changing economic systems or human philosophies, but in changing human hearts through the redemptive power of the Gospel. Lastly, merely voting against Marxist leaders by supporting secular parties is insufficient, as it does not lead to a fundamental change in worldview (for example, a political campaign to "Stop the EFF!", or "Keep out the Democrats!" cannot bring lasting change if the Gospel is not administered as well). Marxists will merely be renewed in their goal to overthrow who and what they perceive to be the oppressors. Christianity offers a transformative perspective that transcends the oppressor-oppressed dichotomy inherent in Marxist thought. It emphasizes spiritual renewal, forgiveness, and the intrinsic value of every individual, promoting a society based on Christian principles of love, justice, and unity.

The key to overcoming Marxism fundamentally lies not in political or economic strategies, but in a profound spiritual and moral awakening that reshapes how individuals and communities interact and function.

The world needs Christ. Maranatha.



Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.

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