God and Socialism?

What has God to do with  socialism? Within  contemporary political and theological discussion God and socialism do not mix. In fact socialism does not mix well in any of the usual forms of contemporary thought or language. Socialism in the popular imagination is assumed to be a  political economic system which was  discredited fully with the fall of the  “communist” societies of Eastern Europe. And of course everyone  including many self described socialists who should know better, “know” that socialism is only about either protecting the welfare state, or  extending the power of government into the economic life of societies. Liberals and progressives believe that this extension of government is needed in order to meet human needs.
Conservatives believe that it is ultimately about the suppression of human autonomy and freedom. Since conservatism has been winning the propaganda warfare of the last forty years  socialism has been relegated to outside the norms of “realistic” and “civilized” conversation. Thus one of the surest ways a potential political leader can be marginalized  is to be  tinged with the label of “socialist.”
 Even those individuals  who secretly in their heart of hearts believe that a little socialism might be a good thing will never admit it publicly due to fear of the consequences. Further more because everyone believes that socialism has no future in the real world it is considered an act of folly for any one, who wishes to be taken seriously, to suggest it as a real alternative for society. One may discuss socialism only in the smallest of private circles. However any attempt by individuals to discuss socialism outside of these circles is to risk being seen as naive, out of touch, or perhaps  being even morally diseased in some way. So why talk about God and socialism?
God and socialism should be discussed because the moral character of God and God’s kingdom and justice can not be understood in the modern world without talking about socialism. The very nature of the justice teachings of the Bible as manifested in the Torah, the Prophets, and Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God can not be separated from the political ideals and values of socialism. I know how outrageous this sounds to most people. So by way of explanation I will begin by stating what socialism is not.
Socialism is not the equivalent to the failed communist systems of the old Soviet Union and of the other “communist”  regimes of Eastern Europe. The fact is that communism’s support of dictatorial, one party states, atheism, and the repression of political and religious freedoms is based on a perversion of the teachings of Karl Marx. The fact is that communist totalitarianism was no more socialist than  the Crusades and the Inquisitions of the Middle Ages were authentically Christian. Socialist values in fact are  the opposite of the values that have become associated with  communism. In deed socialist parties such as the old Socialist Party of America and the Social Democratic Party of Germany have been some of the harshest critics and implacable enemies of communism. These parties  which historically have seen socialism as being about the progressive fulfillment of human freedom have always recognized that communism has been the enemy of the freedom which they  espouse.
So if socialism is not about communism and the worship of the state then what is it? While it is not possible in this article to discuss all of the concrete structures of a socialist society, a few points  need to be made. Most modern democratic socialists believe that such socialist values as solidarity with the oppressed, economic  equality,  the protection of meaningful human community, democracy, freedom, and human justice will best be developed in societies in which businesses and the other economic institutions of society are democratically managed directly by workers and people in general. Socialism is about economic democracy and economic institutions that are governed democratically by worker owners. It is about the empowerment of people both individually and communally. It is not about government ownership and control over society’s economic life. In other words it is more in line with the biblical vision of economic justice and the liberation of the poor and oppressed.
But of course many  people will shake their heads at what I have just said. According to the various forms of Protestant fundamentalism and many other forms of fundamentalist religion, the kingdom of God is all about the afterlife, heaven, hell and an other worldly salvation. Thus what relevance can socialism have to these concepts? The question of course is over the  issue of biblical interpretation. Are the biblical concepts of justice (judgement), sin, salvation, etc all descriptive of exclusively  supernatural realities or do they have a strong relationship with real human life as it is lived in this world and in human history. The evidence of both life and the Bible supports the latter view. That being true human activity plays a central role in the movement toward  salvation and the kingdom of God. If this is true then the ideas of socialism are of great value in interpreting the meaning and direction of that kingdom.
What then is this value? Without the ideas of socialism the vision of kingdom of God or of “restoring the world (tikkun olam)” a central concept within Judaism   becomes cramped within the confines of capitalist restriction. Socialist values such as  democracy, liberty, and fraternity (community) were also values of the great French and American Revolutions and can thus not be viewed as being unique to socialism.  However  it has been the socialists who have used these values to radically critique the  structure of the capitalist economic system. It  has been socialism’s contention that in the economic life of capitalism  these values are in fact suppressed particularly in the economic life of work. Therefore  socialists desire to create a political movement that will make human justice, equality, and democracy the real  and not just the fictional basis of the economic life of societies and nations. 
What socialism can do for religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam is to revivify symbols and ideas such as the kingdom of God,  and judgement in ways that make of them real motivating ideals of life as opposed to being purely otherworldly banalities. The real God is a God of all of reality and not just of some otherworld reality only.
Glenn King

11 thoughts on “God and Socialism?

  1. I heartily agree with your thesis here Glenn. I am one of those rare beings who has never apologized for being a Socialist. I am careful though to not allow my identity as a “socialist” to be co-opted by uninformed caricature.

    The foundational premise of political socialism is that the authority to govern resides in the consent and consensus of the community. It furthermore presumes that all the resources that are essential to the welfare of the community are held in common trust and not subject to private ownership.

    “Socialism” is a relatively recent term. Many Native American societies could be called “socialist”…especially the Nations of Iroquoian heritage (the 6 Nations of the Haudenosaunee, Cherokee, Wyandot, Chikisaw, Choctaw…). Essentially there is no concept of “personal property” within those cultures. Since an individual’s identity is fundamentally rooted in his or her clan all clan resources 9or lack thereof) are distributed acording to need…by the Clan Mothers.

    Much Love…Mitakuye Oyasin!

    Michael Iott

  2. Pingback: God and Socialism « Socialist Currents

  3. Steve,
    Without an absolute right and wrong separate and apart from contemporary human whims or preferences there can never be a true moral law. All you can have without an absolute standard beyond human control is current pollitical preferences which cannot be called morality. Under your statement one would have to posit that in the US South pre-civil war it was “moral” to enslave other people and own them as property. Likewise in Nazi Germany it was moral to kill Jews. Just because a lot of people say something is right or wrong does not make it so. That is merely political force or power not MORALITY.

  4. God is totally a socialist. Think about it, if everyone were somewhat equally poor, more people would be able to enter the kingdom of Heaven easily.

  5. G-d is an autocrat with good manners, wanting to be loved for Himself, but not the least worried about people disliking Him. It’s His universe, and after this life, if you are not in relationship with Him, it’s your choice of actions that bring upon you a permanent death. If you want more than this short life, get to know Him. He does love to have people taking care of each other, particularly if they do it His way.

    I have noticed that the general Socialist view of ‘community’ does not appear to resemble the tribal system that the Scriptures are derived from within, where-in everything depended on extended family (and I do mean EXTENDED family), rather than a nebulous central government making rules for other people to keep, while spending their money without their informed consent.

    Socialist systems appear to me to be altogether too centralized for them to work, whereas tribal systems depend upon delegated authority and responsibility, including personal property rights. Real Estate was tribally owned and delegated by lot, but what you did with it was your problem…not the tribal leader’s. In fact, if you didn’t do well enough with it, you would be demoted, and replaced, which does not seem to happen in Socialist Economies…in fact, rather the opposite.

    And by the way, I am a Liberal Constitutionalist, not a Conservative, and though a gentile, practice Messianic Judaism, so please don’t mix me up with the Catholic’s, Protestant’s, and Evangelicals you so obviously lump together as ‘Conservatives’. I am conservative only with my morals and my money. I don’t want yours, and you shouldn’t want mine…it’s called coveting! But I do believe in the community taking care of it’s own…disasters, children, disabled, and the elderly…just like in the original Judaic system.

    Taxation is quite different if done EQUALLY to all, as was required in Judaism, as well as acts of charity being the highest regarded social act, and yet, you can see how well the Priesthood blew it when they centralized authority to a Theocracy after their stay in Babylon. After that, Judeans were paying people in Jerusalem to leave them alone, just as the rulers of Israel were paying the Egyptians or the Assyrians, or the Persians, Greeks and Romans (successively), just like we do now. We just don’t call it protection money (tribute)…and our ‘Progressive’ government? It’s a system of jurisprudence where the entire government is involved with ‘legally’ taking money away from everyone by one regulation or another, while the ‘Government’ pays off their friends to help, Bank or Union, Corporation, or 501C, and then has the nerve to tell you how to live as well, and under what circumstances while getting in the way the entire time.

    So please, if you are going to talk about G-d’s ways and socialism, think only about local government as a large Family/Tribal arrangement, and de-centralize your ideas, or you are doomed, and the rest of us with you.

  6. Quester, an interest post. I do not have the time to respond back now but I will attempt to get back with you before too many days are gone.

  7. Quester, it is not surprising that you believe that Socialism is inevitably an economic tradition of centralized economic control by the state. Most of the self confessed socialists which I have known over the years to the extent that they attempt to describe socialism will use the welfare state of Sweden as their model of Socialism. The more lefty socialists will even use Cuba as their model.I can only say that if one studies the long history of socialist movements one will discover that powerful alternative movements of socialism have existed that have believed in decentralization in principle. And yes the vision of economic life of these socialist movements were much closer to the decentralized tribal society which you correctly argue the Bible advocates. I would suggest that you read my article “An Alternative Socialism” for a brief discussion of these other forms of socialism.

    As far as socialism itself goes, about the only people in the US who seem to believe that something called Socialism is a going concern is the Republican / Tea Party right. After all to them Barack Obama is a socialist and just about any government program which exists which regulates to the slightest degree US economic life or which provides some aid to the poor and wretched is socialist. Of course by those standards the Bible itself would be a socialist document. after all the rule on the year of Jubilee and the Sabbath year are much more radical economically than even the most radical of FDR’s legislation.

    Anyway Socialism does not seem to be a part of the future of humankind at this point of history. I suspect that Book of Revelations with its catastrophic point of view is much more the likely future of humankind.


  8. Reblogged this on Ma'at: Toward a Justice and Equality Movement and commented:

    Since some one has recently posted a comment regarding “God and Socialism” the most read of the articles I have posted here and as a result I have had the opportunity to read a brief response I have decided to reblog this post.

    Note. I really do not post about Socialism much any more. It seems to be pretty much a wast of time. However I will repeat the principles of socialism are much more close to those of the Bible than are those of the current American right.

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