The Communist’s Catechism

The opening lines of the Communist Manifesto could not have been more eerily apt: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism,” wrote Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. “All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.”

Marx and Engels opted for such words: a specter, a haunting specter—a specter haunting Europe. Marx and Engels further opted for the word “exorcise”—the process for expunging a demon. Jesus Christ expelled demons. The Roman Catholic Church has long had a Rite of Exorcism for ridding people of demonic infestation. The very first image chosen by Marx and Engels to describe their ideology in the opening line of their book seems quite telling if not chilling. Whether it was serious or sarcastic, perhaps tongue in cheek (Marx had a mordant sense of humor), it was nonetheless fitting, and prophetic. They were on to something, or something was on to them and their ideology. If ever a force could be described as a haunting specter in dire need of exorcism, the phantom unleashed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels fit the bill.

The two could not have conjured up a better description of what would play out in the course of history.

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Marx and Engels correctly noted that all the powers of Europe were allied against this phantom; or, that is, had “entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre.” They named great statesmen like Klemens Von Metternich as well as authorities such as German police-spies (who actually had Marx under surveillance). They singled out the pope. They pointed to the Russian czar, one of which three decades earlier had called for a Holy Alliance at the Congress of Vienna. Scarcely could Czar Alexander have foreseen the infernal beast that would devour his beloved Russia a century later. The pope of the day, Pius IX, actually had foreseen it.

And why wouldn’t the powers of Europe desire a holy alliance against this specter? They all recognized that an unholy spirit dwelled within their midst. Here in this chapter, we will take our first look at the contours of that specter and of the man who summoned it.

Marx and Engels viewed the initial draft of their manifesto as a revolutionary “catechism” for an awaiting world. More than that, they saw it and referred to it, certainly in the initial draft stage, as a literal Communist Confession of Faith, before opting for the title that stuck. “Think over the Confession of Faith a bit,” Engels wrote to Marx in November 1847. “I believe we had better drop the catechism form and call the thing: Communist Manifesto.”

Even then, the document was, for these proud atheists, very much a catechetical confession of faith for communists. Their communism became their religion, even as they scoffed at religion as something for superstitious idiots. Truly, their manifesto was and became their catechism—their bible.

At a more material level, one might better accuse communists of fashioning a golden calf than channeling an unclean spirit. What communists effectively bowed down to was just that: a material idol forged and focused on money, property, gold. It was not about the soul. The key to the communist-Marxist utopia would be economics. Solve the economic problem, the communists believed, and you would solve the human problem.

Why such an economic goal was ever perceived by any group as the pinnacle of human development is a darned good question. To most people, economics and class simply are not that monumentally important. Sure, a roof over one’s head and food and financial security are obviously important, especially for those lacking basic necessities; no one denies that. Still, for most individuals, economics is not the centerpiece of existence. To communists and many socialists, however, this is the alpha and omega. They speak as if man truly does live by bread alone; if society resolves, say, “economic inequality,” levels incomes all that same dollar number, or more fully redistributes wealth, then something closer to heaven on earth can follow. As Pope Benedict XVI said, the fatal flaw of communists and socialists is that they had their anthropology wrong. They did not adequately understand man. As Augustine said, we all have a God-shaped vacuum that God alone can fill; not a dollar-signed vacuum. We crave the divine manna of heaven.

Atheist communists and socialists have always mistakenly felt that the answers to man’s miseries are found not in God (the existence of which they deny) but in economic materialism. It is so ironic that communists and socialists blast the wealthy for being allegedly obsessed with money and material things when, in fact, communists and socialists are obsessed with money and material things. But as most rich people learn, money does not buy happiness. Humans desire more. How profound that Jesus told Satan that man does not live on bread alone. As the two debated, the Living Bread told the tempter that man lives by every word from the mouth of God. Marx took not the side of Christ on that one. Of course, Marx rejected Christ in total. Communists are atheists.

Communists are also, curiously, utopians—secular utopians. They sought a heaven on earth; for them, an earth without religion. They did so without realizing that utopia is not only elusive but such a literal self-contradiction that it does not exist. The Greek roots of the word are ou topos, or no place. In other words, there is no utopia, at least not in this world and realm. And yet, communists would pursue this no place with religious-like zeal.

In his classic, Private Property and Communism (1844), Marx grandiosely exclaimed that “Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” Few ideologies, or ideologues, have been so self-boastful. In his German Ideology (1845), Marx fantasized: “In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

That is a picture of utopia. And the Manifesto was a utopian treatise.

Marx and Engels published their Communist Manifesto in 1848 as the official programmatic statement of the Communist Party (or Communist League) outlining exactly what communists believed and planned to pursue. That is what the Communist Manifesto really was, namely: a manifesto for the party which, at that point, had lacked a single written statement laying out communist beliefs.

Notably, usage of the word “communism” preceded the Communist Manifesto, as Marx and Engels were able to refer to it in the book as something that already existed (though not by long) and was known to certain people. It is possible that they coined the term themselves in Paris a few years before the publication of their Manifesto, but pinning that down is elusive; they certainly, however, popularized the term. Quite fittingly, Marx and Engels met in August 1844 in the left-wing looney bin that is Paris, where Marx a year earlier had already moved with his wife and begun studying the French Revolution, various utopian socialists, and attending workers’ meetings and engaging in other fanciful leftist functions.

Marx envisioned an apocalyptic revolution leading to the overthrow of capitalism by the impoverished working class, the common people, the masses—the so-called “proletariat.” The stage in the revolutionary process immediately following this overthrow would be that of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. That “dictatorship” would be a waystation on the road to the ultimate utopian goal of a “classless society.” The state in the process would be abolished; it would die out; it would “wither away.” With a classless society, class antagonisms would hence disappear, as would conflict (including armed conflict), as would economic inequality, as would social inequality, and peace and harmony would follow. Society would evolve through dialectical stages: from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism.

Note that final transition: from socialism to communism. When asked to define the difference between socialism and communism, Marion Smith, director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, likes to say that Christians go to heaven, whereas socialists go to communism. That is indeed the transitionary process, and Smith’s language is apt, given that the communist views full communism as a sort of New Jerusalem. The atheistic communist, whether realizing it or not, subscribes or aspires to a messianic vision.

Editor’s note: This is an exclusive excerpt from Paul Kengor’s newly released book, The Devil and Karl Marx: Communism’s Long March of Death, Deception, and Infiltration (TAN Books, 2020). 

Photo credit: nitpicker /



  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).

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