The Comprehensive Claim of Marxism | Peter Kreeft | From "Socrates
Meets Marx" | IgnatiusInsight.com
The Comprehensive Claim of Marxism | Peter Kreeft | From
Socrates Meets Marx: The Father of Philosophy Cross-Examines the Founder of Communism
This book is one in a series of Socratic explorations of some of the Great
Books. Books in this series are intended to be short, clear, and non-technical,
thus fully understandable by beginners. They also introduce (or review)
the basic questions in the fundamental divisions of philosophy (see the chapter titles): metaphysics, epistemology, anthropology, ethics, logic,
and method. They are designed both for classroom use and for educational
do-it-yourselfers. The "Socrates Meets . . ." books can be read and understood
completely on their own, but each is best appreciated after reading the
little classic it engages in dialogue.
The setting Socrates and the author of the Great Book meeting in
the afterlife need not deter readers who do not believe there is
an afterlife. For although the two characters and their philosophies are
historically real, their conversation, of course, is not and requires
a "willing suspension of disbelief ". There is no reason the skeptic cannot
extend this literary belief also to the setting.
This excerpt is Chapter 2 of Socrates Meets Marx.
SOCRATES: Perhaps it would be best for you to introduce your book first, to
explain its context and its purpose, as if you were teaching it in a university
classroom. I think you are much readier to lecture than to dialogue at this
point, so perhaps this method would relieve that itch a bit.
MARX: Do you really expect me to respond to an insulting invitation like that?
SOCRATES: Because you are an egotist. And also because you have no choice:
there is nothing else to do here.
MARX: Hmph! Well, I will take up your challenge.
The book we are about to explore is very short: a pamphlet of only 12,000
words. Yet it has changed the world, as I knew it would. It contains the
essentials of Communism in these few pages. All the rest of my writing consists
in additions or refinements to this.
I wrote it at age twenty-nine. Engels did not write a word of it. However, he
supplied some of the ideas. The Manifesto corresponds to the first twenty-five questions in his Catechism. More importantly, he supplied most of the money to
It is a Great Book because it finally solves the mystery of man and lays bare
the most fundamental laws that have always governed human behavior. I did for man's
history what Darwin did for the history of an- imal species and Newton did for
the inorganic universe. It is the supreme achievement of human thought. I was
the first to make history truly scientific.
All the philosophers, from Plato on, sought the "philosopher's
stone", the world system, the formula. Each claimed to find it, but none
did. Every time thought came to a halt before the timeless formula of some
philosopher, the world moved on and refuted it.
Then came Hegel, who made change itself the formula. That was true, but not
original: Heraclitus, even before your time, Socrates, had seen that
"everything flows", like a river. He sought for the logos, the law or formula, for universal change; but it
was not found until Hegel, who saw for the first time that logic itself moves
with history, that truth itself changes according to the pattern of what he
called the "dialectic": a thesis generates its own antithesis, and from this perpetual conflict emerges a synthesis, which then becomes a new thesis generating its own new
antithesis, and so on until the final synthesis. Hegel, with unbelievable
stupidity, identified this with "God", or "The Absolute" or
"Spirit"--probably the three worst words in human speech and the three
most harmful myths in human thought.
Heraclitus discovered the universality of change, or "becoming".
Hegel discovered the logical form of it, the "dialectic". But I
discovered its true content: matter, not spirit. Hegel thought that ideas
caused historical conflicts; I found the causes in the real world. Ideas are
only the echo or the effect.
Furthermore, within the real world I found the source of historical change, not
in unpredictable individual characters or choices or passions, but in economic
determinism. This was the key to making history a science: something
predictable and controllable.
The forces of the dialectic of history are economic classes. Class conflict is
I was also the first to show how the socialist, classless Utopia of which
others had dreamed would grow like a flower from the plant of my present world.
For once the number of classes is reduced to one--the proletariat--conflict is
reduced to zero.
This is accomplished by the elimination of the only other remaining class, the
bourgeoisie. The meaning of my era is precisely there: Capitalism had already
reduced the plethora of classes that had characterized feudalism to just two,
the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The Communist revolution will be the last
great event in history, for it will eliminate the bourgeoisie, leaving only
"the dictatorship of the proletariat", as I said in my Critique
of the Gotha Programand elsewhere, that
is, a society of perfect equality and justice, where "the free
development of each is the condition for the free development of all",
and where, as I said in the same book, all things flow "from each
according to his ability to each according to his need."
SOCRATES: That was a wonderful speech, Karl! It did exactly what it needed to
do, in introducing your book. It was admirably clear and simple: even I could understand
it. It was powerful and appealing: you are truly a great rhetorician. Lastly,
and best of all, it was short.
MARX: So if you are satisfied, let us do it, not just think about it. Will you
join the Party?
SOCRATES: Well, now, I think you will find some difficulty in organizing that
kind of thing here.
MARX: I am not afraid of any challenge, even in my dreams.
SOCRATES: You don't understand.
MARX: What is the problem?
SOCRATES: Well, in addition to the little detail that we are not in your dream
but quite real, we have one other little thing that we have to take care of
before we can think about practicing your philosophy.
MARX: What is that?
SOCRATES: What do you think? What should you make sure of first, before you put
any philosophy into practice?
MARX: That I have the money needed. Is Engels here, too?
SOCRATES: No, something more basic than that.
MARX: There is nothing more basic than that.
SOCRATES: Yes, there is.
MARX: That I have the power base? Fear not; I shall create it.
SOCRATES: No, something else.
MARX: Associates? Organizational skills?
SOCRATES: Something about the philosophy rather than about you. What do you
want to be sure a philosophy is?
MARX: Dynamic? Radical? Progressive? No? You still shake your bulbous, ugly
head! Challenging, engaging, galvanizing to action? No? Flattering, perhaps? Sly
and clever and winsome? No? Original? Creative? Interesting? No, still! Surely
you are not suggesting that it be comfortably traditional? No, again. What,
then? I give up this demeaning guessing game. What are you after? Tell me the
secret. What is the occult quality that you demand in a philosophy before you
will put it into practice?
SOCRATES: I was thinking of truth.
SOCRATES: Is that your only reply? That one little syllable?
MARX: But practice will reveal that, Socrates. Truth always emerges,
eventually, from the process of history, the dialectic. Truth does not come
outside of action and before it; it comes in action and as the result of action.
SOCRATES: Is that so?
MARX: It is so, I assure you.
SOCRATES: So it is true that truth only emerges from the process?
SOCRATES: And are we in the process now, or are we outside it and at its end?
MARX: We are in process.
SOCRATES: And truth is not before this process, or outsideit, but
only emerges from it?
MARX: That is what I said. You have a very short memory.
SOCRATES: Then, since we are only in the process and not outside it, how can we
know what is outside the process?
MARX: We can't.
SOCRATES: We are like fish, then, in the sea, who cannot fly above the sea like
SOCRATES: So we cannot know what is or is not outside the process, just as a
fish cannot know what is or is not outside the sea?
MARX: Right again. You are beginning to understand my point, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Then how can you know that there is no truth outside the process?
MARX: What? What's that you say?
SOCRATES: If fish cannot know what is outside the sea, they cannot know what is
notoutside the sea, either. So
if we cannot know any truth outside time, we cannot know that there is no such
thing as truth outside time, either. But you said you did know precisely that:
that there is no truth outside time.
MARX: I will not let myself be tricked by some philosopher's abstract logical
argument and diverted from the real into the ideal. All your own ideas, Socrates,
including that static logic of yours, too, are nothing but the product of your
pre-industrial peasant-aristocrat-conservative social order.
SOCRATES: And yours?
MARX: All ideas are the products of social conditions.
SOCRATES: But your social conditions, including your education, were thoroughly
bourgeois. If ideas are nothing but products of their social order, your
Communism must be a thoroughly bourgeois idea.
MARX: I need not answer your pitiful logic, Socrates. It is impotent. You seek
in vain to slay the juggernaut of history's dialectic with the weapons of
words. 'Words are mere shadows, spectres, ghosts.
SOCRATES: Including your words, Karl? Are they also spectres?
MARX: You keep doing that, Socrates! It is a most annoying habit.
SOCRATES: Isn't that image--that of a spectre--exactly the one you used for
your own words, or your own ideas, namely, Communism, in the very first line of
your book? Here it is: "A spectre is haunting Europe-the spectre of
MARX: I must warn you, Socrates, that your habit of throwing other people's
words back at them will not win you many friends. It will only win arguments.
SOCRATES: My purpose here is not to win friends, or to win arguments, either,
but to be your helper, if not your friend, by being a mirror held up to your mind
so that you may know yourself.
MARX: Are you so na´ve as to expect me to believe you are my helper when you
subject me to such torture? And to expect me to accept it as in my own best interests?
SOCRATES: Yes, indeed. Unless you want to be a comic figure instead of a
serious one. For I can think of nothing more comic than a philosophy that does not
account for its own creator. A philosophy without a philosopher--now that's a
MARX: Is your task here to dissect me or my book?
SOCRATES: Only your book, for now. But that task is a means to the higher end
of knowing yourself. Are you ready to begin?
MARX: Go ahead, do your worst, Socrates!
SOCRATES: No, Karl, I will obey my mother instead of you: she always told me to
do my best.
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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor
of philosophy at Boston College who uses that dialog format in a series
published by Ignatius Press, called "Socrates Meets..." So far,
Dr. Kreeft has written Philosophy
101 by Socrates, Socrates
Meets Marx, Socrates
Meets Machiavelli and Socrates
Dr. Kreeft has written more than forty books, including C.S.
Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals
of the Faith, Catholic
to Virtue, and Three
Approaches to Abortion. His most recent Ignatius Press books include
Can Understand the Bible, The
God Who Loves You, and The
Philosophy of Tolkien. (A complete list of Ignatius Press books
by Kreeft can be viewed on his IgnatiusInsight.com
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