John Zmirak: Your new book The Devil and Karl Marx is fascinating — and disturbing. One thing you turn up that no one ever talks about: Marx’s fascination with Satan. You quote early works of Marx’s where he obsessively referenced Faust, Mephistopheles, Prometheus. All were figures of rebellion against God. Can you expand on that for Stream readers, maybe offer a few choice quotes?
Paul Kengor: There are so many examples, John. And frankly, that’s the point. There’s too much to shrug off. I hesitate to try to give even one or two examples here, because they won’t be sufficient.
Marx’s poems and plays are rife with pacts with the devil, suicide pacts, violence, vengeance, fire, despair, destruction, and death. Marx waxed poetic about “Hellish vapors,” about the “Prince of Darkness” selling a “blood-dark sword [that] shall stab unerringly within thy soul,” of “Heaven I’ve forfeited, I know it full well, My soul, once true to God, Is Chosen for Hell.”
Among the most chilling of Marx’s writings was the play that he titled Oulanem. Two Marx biographers (Robert Payne and Richard Wurmbrand) say that title is a sacrilegious inversion of the holy name “Manuelo” or “Emmanuel.” As Payne formulated it “Manuelo = Immanuel = God.” Wurmbrand was even more blunt. He identified the anagram as a directly Satanist anagram for the Hebrew Biblical name for Jesus, meaning “God is with us.” Of course, in sacred Scripture, the Angel Gabriel says to the Virgin Mary that she shall bear a child, and his name shall be Emmanuel, or Jesus. He will be called “Son of the Most High.” But these were not the words (or purpose) of Karl Marx in his anagram for Emmanuel — and for his “Oulanem.”
Wurmbrand published that observation in the 1980s. Payne wrote about the play in his superb biographies of Marx in the 1960s and 1970s, published by the likes of Simon & Schuster and New York University Press. Payne was a respected and fair scholar, a British professor of literature and the arts, and no right-winger. If you Google the word “Oulanem” today, you will immediately find a Wikipedia reference to Marx’s play. A warning, however: your screen will also display repulsive images of Satanic figures. Don’t bother, dear reader. I’ve done the dirty work for you.
Marx’s message in Oulanem is dark and destructive, like his poems. Payne observed that the violence unleashed by Marx in some of his poems is turned inward, as the subject destroys himself. But the violence in Oulanem is turned outward with the destruction of all mankind by the character that is “Oulanem.” Still more disquieting was Marx’s personal role in that vision. Payne observes: “We enter a world where all the characters are learned in the arts of destruction, caught in the coils of a secret rage for vengeance.” He says that in this play, “Marx was giving vent to his own destructive rages. Oulanem is a revenger’s tragedy.”
Was Marx … Possessed?
Some of these biographers seem to me to suggest that Karl Marx was possessed, or a Satanist. What do you say about that?
I’d really like to clarify here, to this audience, a crucial distinction I try to make. I see that it’s getting lost in some of the reaction to the book. I do not say nor do I know whether Karl Marx was possessed or a Satanist. I do quote others who speculate on that possibility or claim it outright. Those are things I couldn’t begin to affirm. I say that very carefully right up front and repeatedly. I’ve never encountered examples of Marx dabbling in the occult or engaging in black Masses or pagan worship. (Though I give examples of other communists doing such things.)
As I say early on, this book could be better titled, The Devil and Communism, because it goes way beyond the person of Marx. Read the section on the communist prison camp at Pitesti. People will be utterly shocked at the vile expressions of evil and depravity that they can’t even imagine — black Masses, mock crucifixions, priests forced to form communion wafers out of human excrement, denunciations of Mary as “the great whore,” of Jesus as “the great idiot crucified on the cross.” Read the material on Walter Duranty and Aleister Crowley. Read the section on Kate Millett. Read the weird and sometimes occultish garbage from certain members of the Frankfurt School.
But as for Marx specifically, I say this in the preface: There was a deep hatred of religion and interest in the “dark side” that is undeniable and chilling, especially in Marx’s poetry. We repeatedly encounter in the life of Marx the words that family members and close friends used referring to him. Phrases like “governed by a demon” (his father), “my dear devil” (his son), “monster of ten thousand devils” (Engels). See the striking number of intimates and associates who compared him to Faust or Mephistopheles. They used words like “possessed,” or “eyes like a wet goblin,” or “take under a spell,” to describe his demeanor. One observed Marx shouting or “chanting the words from Faust.”
There are way too many of these to blithely ignore.
"There were times when Marx seemed to be possessed by demons,” recorded Robert Payne in his chapter “The Demons.” This appeared in his seminal 1968 biography of Marx. “He had the devil’s view of the world, and the devil’s malignity. Sometimes he seemed to know that he was accomplishing works of evil.”
What is undeniable is the evil associated with and wrought by Marxist-communist ideology: at least 100 million dead in the 20th century alone.
A word of caution here to all scholars and biographers, especially Christian ones. You don’t want to overstate things, but you also don’t want to understate. There’s room in the world for nuance and making careful distinctions, even if this lousy Twitter culture militates against it. Describing Marx’s views requires more than 40 characters on a Twitter feed, or whatever the limit is.
John Zmirak: Did Karl Marx ever exhibit genuine concern for the poor who lived around him? Was Marx’s family life what we’d expect from a humanitarian who sacrificed his life in trying to help the poor and needy? Can you talk about how he treated his parents, his wife, and his children? Did he ever do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay?
Paul Kengor: Quite the contrary. The man could not have kept a roof over his family’s head if not for his top sap and sugar-daddy, Friedrich Engels. Engels subsidized Marx and his family throughout his life. He did so courtesy of his inheritance from his wealthy capitalist father.
Marx drained his own parents’ inheritance. They finally had to cut him off. Marx refused to work, let alone bathe or groom himself. Both his mother and wife expressed the wish that “Karl would earn some capital rather than just write about capital.” His wife constantly went begging for money to relatives and whoever else because Marx wouldn’t earn any. Marx said that a day didn’t go by that his wife didn’t wish she were in her grave with the children — “such is her misery.”
Part of that misery came from Marx cheating on his wife with the family.
nursemaid. She was a young girl named “Lenchen,” whom Marx impregnated behind his wife’s back. Marx refused to pay Lenchen a penny — she lived with the family as effectively an indentured servant. He also refused to acknowledge that the child was his, or pay a penny of child support. Engels came to the rescue again, claiming paternity and financial responsibility for the child in order to save Marx’s marriage and reputation. Engels himself didn’t give a whit for marriage (he didn’t believe in the institution) nor for his own reputation. The child was named Freddy, after Friedrich Engels.
Why Persecute Christians?
Further on in the book, you look at Lenin, Trotsky, and other builders of the Soviet and other communist states. They seemed obsessed with eradicating religion. Even after the Orthodox Church in Russia had no political power, and they’d seized all its treasures, the persecution continued. Based on Marx’s work, what is it about socialism (the system they were building) that makes it see faith in God as a threat?
That’s an issue I return to repeatedly. God was a threat to the system they wanted to build. The Judeo-Christian foundation had to be completed razed in order to build their world, their society, their atheistic-material system anew, with their own definitions of reality and their own new truths.
Marx said that “Communism begins where atheism begins.” Marx declared religion “the opium of the people.” He said that “the criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism.” Marx in a letter to Arnold Ruge called for the “ruthless criticism of all that exists.”
Marx had a favorite quote from Goethe’s Faust, “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” Guess who said that? Answer: Mephistopheles, the demon/devil character.
Beyond ruthless and relentless criticism, there was ruthless and relentless abolition. The word “abolition” is omnipresent throughout Marx’s writings. As Robert Payne noted, the word almost seems to jump off every page of the Manifesto:
And after he has “abolished” property, family, and nations, and all existing societies, Marx shows little interest in creating a new society on the ruins of the old. … He had written in a poem to Jenny [his wife] that he would throw a gauntlet at the world, and watch it crumble. Comforted by her love, he would wander through the kingdom of ruins, his words glowing with action, his heart like the heart of God. The Communist Manifesto was the gauntlet he threw at the world.
It was indeed. Marx wanted to burn down the house.
Black Lives Matter: A Front Group?
The ideology behind Black Lives Matter is Marxist. Its founders have boasted about that, calling themselves “trained Marxists.” Do you see the street riots, the demands to abolish police, the defenses of looting, as flowing from Marx?
Here’s a key parallel that I see, and it flows from what I noted in my previous answer. Look at the anti-statue movement. At angry leftist mobs marching into towns and tearing down statues of everyone and everything from Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln to Washington and Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt and Christopher Columbus and Francis Scott Key and Saint Junipero Serra and Saint Louis and, good grief, even Frederick Douglass, the wonderful black abolitionist. That tear-down mentality really reflects Marx’s nihilistic attitude.
Here are some very telling lines from the Communist Manifesto. Marx said that communism seeks nothing less than to “abolish the present state of things.” Marx and Engels close the Manifesto with this stunning goal: “They [the Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Marx and Engels finished with this line: “Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.”
Surely they would cheer on the revolutionary movement in our streets today that literally tears down the existing social and political order of things.
Infiltrating Churches via Leftist Christians
Given how openly anti-Christian and anti-Jewish Marxism is, how do Christians get fooled? How did so many Marxists infiltrate Protestant and Catholic churches? What slogans, rhetoric, and arguments did they use to dupe people of faith? Which are they using today?
The one section of my book that I really wish every Christian would read is part four, “Infiltration and Manipulation.” It is the longest part. It deals with the genuinely shocking levels of infiltration and manipulation by communists of the Religious Left, particularly the mainline Protestant denominations. They had alarming, tragic success duping the religious Left. That came especially through appeals to “social justice,” to peace, to opposing war, to opposing fascism.
The two most successful communist front-groups in hoodwinking liberal Christians were the American League Against War and Fascism and the American Peace Mobilization. Note the brilliant sloganeering here: Who, after all, could oppose a “peace mobilization?” Who, after all, could oppose an organization that’s against war and fascism?
I see you’re alluding to Black Lives Matter, whose founders, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, are self-admitted “trained Marxist organizers.”That’s their (in Patrisse’s words) “ideological framework.” And Patrisse shrewdly understands the power of a name. Who would possibly say that black lives don’t matter? I wouldn’t, you wouldn’t, only a cretin would. To name her organization Black Lives Matter is absolutely brilliant. And with the way that leftists aggressively weaponize their rhetoric, they frame anyone against the organization, Black Lives Matter, as being against the goal of black lives mattering.
A fellow columnist of mine at The American Spectator, Ben Hall, wrote a piece on how BLM has had enormous success in drawing in religious Left Christians. So did organizations like the American League Against War and Fascism and the American Peace Mobilization.
I’ll finish here with another appeal to nuance. I know, John, that conservative Christians will want to assert that BLM is a “Marxist organization.” I should write something carefully walking through that. Communist Party USA is a Marxist organization. The Revolutionary Communist Party is a Marxist organization. So is People’s World and the Socialist Workers Party.
I would describe BLM more accurately as founded by two people with self-admitted Marxist influences, who have personally expressed some Marxist goals and ambitions, and who have created a larger movement based on issues like stopping police violence against African Americans. That’s an issue that anyone and everyone can rally behind. And yet, just read the “About” section at the BLM website, and you’ll see issues that go way beyond that — issues like disrupting “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.”
I’ve written about how communists in the 1930s seized the cause and the case of the Scottsboro boys, which was another genuine racial injustice. Here was another example of communist organizers smartly seizing upon an issue that everyone could support. They’re very shrewd at doing that.
Anyway, that’s a longer conversation we could have another time. I could say much more.