Written by Vladimir Moss



     Marx in his early life was a Christian. But something led him not only to reject Christianity, but also violently to war against it; not atheism, but active antitheism, warfare against God, became the driving-force of his life. Richard Wurmbrand has demonstrated this from Marx’s poems, especially Olanem (an anagram of “Emmanuel”). The critical turning-point in Marx’s life was his meeting with the Talmudist Moses Hess and the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. “Hess calls him ‘Dr. Marx – my idol, who will give the last kick to medieval religion and politics’... George Jung, another friend of Marx at that time, writes in 1841 even more clearly: ‘Marx will surely chase God from his heaven and will even sue him. Marx calls the Christian religion one of the most immoral of religions.’…

     “Marx did not speak much publicly about metaphysics, but we can gather his views from the men with whom he associated. One of his associates in the First International was Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist, who wrote: ‘Satan is the first free-thinker and Saviour of the world. He frees Adam and impresses the seal of humanity and liberty on his forehead by making him disobedient’… 

     “Bakunin does more than praise Lucifer. He has a concrete program of revolution, but not one that would free the poor from exploitation. He writes: ‘In this revolution we will have to awaken the devil in the people, to stir up the basest passion’…

     “Bakunin reveals that Proudhon, another major Socialist thinker and at that time a friend of Karl Marx, also ‘worshipped Satan.’… Hess had introduced Marx to Proudhon, who wore the same hair style typical of the nineteenth-century Satanist sect of Joanna Southcott.

     “Proudhon in ‘About Justice in the Revolution, and in the Church’, declared that God was the prototype for injustice. ‘We reach knowledge in spite of him, we reach society in spite of him. Every step forward is a victory in which we overcome the Divine.’

     “He exclaims, ‘God is stupidity and cowardice; God is hypocrisy and falsehood; God is tyranny. Where humanity bows before the altar, humanity, the slave of kings and priests, will be condemned.. I swear, God, with my hand stretched out towards the heavens, that you are nothing more than the executioner of my reason, the scepter of my conscience… God is essentially anti-civilized, anti-liberal, anti-human.’  Proudhon declares God to be evil because man, his creation, is evil. Such thoughts are not original. They are the usual contents of sermons in Satan-worship.

     “Marx later quarreled with Proudhon and wrote a book to contradict his Philosophy of Misery, which contains the words quoted above. But Marx contradicted only minor economic doctrines. He had no objection to Proudhon’s demonic anti-God rebellion.”[1]


     What distinguished Marx from his fellow rebels against God was his ability to create a philosophical, historicist, pseudo-scientific justification for his rebellion. The others, especially Bakunin and Proudhon, were “pure” revolutionaries. Marx was, supposedly, a scientific one…

     As Sir Richard Evans writes, Marx “gravitated towards the Young Hegelians at the University of Berlin, one of whom, Feuerbach (1804-72), was the source of Marx’s famous statement ‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world: the point is to change it’. Marx became a freelance writer, penning articles for a recently founded radical paper based in Cologne, the Rheinische Zeitung. The paper was closed by the authorities in April 1843, and three months later Marx moved to Paris. His reading of the French socialists led him to see in the abolition of private property and the establishment of communal and collective forms of labour the way to overcome the alienation of the workers’ labour through the appropriation of its products by the employers. Socializing with radicals in Paris also brought Marx for the first time into contact with Friedrich Engels (1820-95), who became his lifelong collaborator.”[2]

     What is the relationship between Hegelianism and its most influential offspring, Marxism? Timothy Snyder explains: “G.W.F. Hegel’s ambition was to resolve the difference between what is and what should be. His claim was that something called Spirit, a unity of all thoughts and minds, was emerging over time, through the conflicts that defined epochs. Hegel’s was an appealing way of seeing our fractious world, since it suggested that catastrophe was an indication of progress. History was a ‘slaughter bench’, but the bloodshed had a purpose. This idea allowed philosophers to pose as prophets, seers of hidden patterns that would resolve themselves into a better world, judges of who had to suffer now so that all would benefit later. If Spirit was the only good, then any means that History chose for its realization was also good.

     “Karl Marx was critical of Hegel’s idea of Spirit. He and other Left Hegelians claimed that Hegel had smuggled God into his system under the heading of Spirit. The absolute good, suggested Marx, was not God but humanity’s lost essence. History was a struggle, but its sense was man’s overcoming of circumstance to regain his own nature. The emergence of technology, argued Marx, allowed some men to dominate others, forming social classes. Under capitalism, the bourgeoisie controlled the means of production, oppressing the mass of workers. This very oppression instructed workers about the character of history and made them revolutionaries. The proletariat would overthrow the bourgeoisie, seize the means of production, and thereby restore man to himself. Once there was no property, thought Marx, human beings would live in happy cooperation…”[3]

     Sir Isaiah Berlin writes: “When Hegel, and after him Marx, describe historical processes, they too assume that human beings and their societies are part and parcel of a wider nature, which Hegel regards as spiritual, and Marx as material, in character. Great social forces are at work of which only the acutest and most gifted individuals are aware; the ordinary run of men are blind in varying degrees to that which truly shapes their lives, they worship fetishes and invent childish mythologies, which they dignify with the title of views or theories in order to explain the world in which they live. From time to time the real forces – impersonal and irresistible – which truly govern the world develop to a point where a new historical advance is ‘due’. Then (as both Hegel and Marx notoriously believed) the crucial moments of advance are reached; these take the form of violent, cataclysmic leaps, destructive revolutions which, often with fire and sword, establish a new order upon the ruins of the old. Inevitably the foolish, obsolete, purblind, homemade philosophies of the denizens of the old establishment are knocked over and swept away together with their possessors.

     “For Hegel, and for a good many others, though by no means all, among the philosophers and poets of the romantic movement, history is a perpetual struggle of vast spiritual forces embodied now in institutions – Churches, races, civilisations, empires, national States – now in individuals of more than human stature – ‘world-historical figures’ – of bold and ruthless genius, towering over, and contemptuous of, their puny contemporaries. For Marx, the struggle is a fight between socially conditioned, organised groups – classes shaped by the struggle for subsistence and survival and consequently for the control of power. There is a sardonic note (inaudible only to their most benevolent and single-hearted followers) in the words of both these thinkers as they contemplate the discomfiture and destruction of the philistines, the ordinary men and women caught in one of the decisive moments of history Both Hegel and Marx conjure up an image of peaceful and foolish human beings, largely unaware of the part they play in history, building their homes, with touching hope and simplicity, upon the green slopes of what seems to them a peaceful mountainside, trusting in the permanence of their particular way of life, their own economic, social and political order, treating their own values as if they were eternal standards, living, working, fighting without any awareness of the cosmic processes of which their lives are but a passing stage. But the mountain is no ordinary mountain; it is a volcano; and when (as the philosopher always knew that it would) the inevitable eruption comes, their homes and their elaborately tended institutions and their ideals and their ways of life and values will be blown out of existence in the cataclysm which marks the leap from the ‘lower’ to a ‘higher’ stage. When this point is reached, the two great prophets of destruction are in their element; they enter into their inheritance; they survey the conflagration with a defiant, almost Byronic, irony and disdain. To be wise is to understand the direction in which the world is inexorably moving, to identify oneself with the rising power which ushers in the new world. Marx – and it is part of his attraction to those of a similar emotional cast – identifies himself exultantly, in his way no less passionately than Nietzsche or Bakunin, with the great force which in its very destructiveness is creative, and is greeted with bewilderment and horror only by those whose values are hopelessly subjective, who listen to their consciences, their feelings, or to what their nurses or teachers tell them, without realising the glories of life in a world which moves from explosion to explosion to fulfil the great cosmic design. When history takes her revenge – and every enragé prophet in the nineteenth century looks to her to avenge him against those he hates most – the mean, pathetic, ludicrous stifling human anthills will be justly pulverised; justly, because what is just and unjust, good and bad, is determined by the goal towards which all creation is tending. Whatever is on the side of victorious reason is just and wise; whatever is on the other side, on the side of the world that is doomed to destruction by the working of the forces of reason, is rightly called foolish, ignorant, subjective, arbitrary, blind; and, if it goes so far as to try to resist the forces that are destined to supplant it, then it – that is to say, the fools and knaves and mediocrities who constitute it – is rightly called retrograde, wicked, obscurantist, perversely hostile to the deepest interests of mankind.

     “Different though the tone of these forms of determinism may be – whether scientific, humanitarian and optimistic or furious, apocalyptic and exultant – they agree in this: that the world has a direction and is governed by laws, and that the direction and the laws can in some degree be discovered by employing the proper techniques of investigation; and moreover that the working of these laws can only be grasped by those who realise that the lives, characters and acts of individuals, both mental and physical, are governed by the large ‘wholes’ to which they belong, and that it is the independent evolution of these ‘wholes’ that constitutes the so-called ‘forces’ in terms of whose direction truly ‘scientific’ (or ‘philosophic’) history must be formulated. To find the explanation of why given individuals, or groups of them, act or think or feel in one way rather than another, one must first seek to understand the structure, the state of development and the direction of such ‘wholes’, for example, the social, economic, political, religious institutions to which such individuals belong; once that is known, the behaviour of the individuals (or the most characteristic among them) should become almost logically deducible, and does not constitute a separate problem. Ideas about the identity of these large entities or forces, and their functions, differ from theorist to theorist. Race, colour, Church, nation, class; climate, irrigation, technology, geopolitical situation; civilisation, social structure, the Human Spirit, the Collective Unconscious, to take some of these concepts at random, have all played their parts in theologico-historical systems as the protagonists upon the stage of history. They are represented as the real forces of which individuals are ingredients, at once constitutive, and the most articulate expressions, of this or that phase of them. Those who are more clearly and deeply aware than others of the part which they play, whether willingly or not, to that degree play it more boldly and effectively; these are the natural leaders. Others, led by their own petty personal concerns into ignoring or forgetting that they are parts of a continuous or convulsive pattern of change, are deluded into assuming that (or, at any rate, into acting as if) they and their fellows are stabilised at some fixed level for ever.

      “What the variants of either of these attitudes entail, like all forms of genuine determinism, is the elimination of the notion of individual responsibility. It is, after all, natural enough for men, whether for practical reasons or because they are given to reflection, to ask who or what is responsible for this or that state of affairs which they view with satisfaction or anxiety, enthusiasm or horror. If the history of the world is due to the operation of identifiable forces other than, and little affected by, free human wills and free choices (whether these occur or not), then the proper explanation of what happens must be given in terms of the evolution of such forces. And there is then a tendency to say that not individuals, but these larger entities, are ultimately ‘responsible’. I live at a particular moment of time in the spiritual and social and economic circumstances into which I have been cast: how then can I help choosing and acting as I do? The values in terms of which I conduct my life are the values of my class, or race, or Church, or civilisation, or are part and parcel of my ‘station’ – my position in the ‘social structure’. Nobody denies that it would be stupid as well as cruel to blame me for not being taller than I am, or to regard the colour of my hair or the qualities of my intellect or heart as being due principally to my own free choice; these attributes are as they are through no decision of mine. If I extend this category without limit, then whatever it is, is necessary and inevitable. This unlimited extension of necessity, on any of the views described above, becomes intrinsic to the explanation of everything. To blame and praise, consider possible alternative courses of action, accuse or defend historical figures for acting as they do or did, becomes an absurd activity. Admiration and contempt for this or that individual may indeed continue, but it becomes akin to aesthetic judgement. We can eulogise or deplore, feel love or hatred, satisfaction of shame, but we can neither blame nor justify. Alexander, Caesar, Attila, Mohammed, Cromwell, Hitler are like floods and earthquakes, sunsets, oceans, mountains; we may admire or fear them, welcome or curse them, but to denounce or extol their acts is (ultimately) as sensible as addressing sermons to a tree [4] 

     Marxism’s main aims, as declared in his and Engels’ Communist Manifesto of 1848, were the destruction of private property, the destruction of the family and the destruction of religion as a prelude to the triumph of the proletariat and the coming of communism. However, the revolution of 1848 had been a failure from the socialist point of view. And after that failure a mild conservative reaction set in throughout Europe as some of the wealth generated by a period of rapid growth in the world economy trickled down to the workers and dulled their zeal for revolution. But as their numbers increased in direct proportion to the increase in factory production, so did their power. And it would only take another downturn in the economy to bring them out on the streets…

     In 1864 Marx founded the International Working Men’s Association in London. In his Inaugural Address he showed how the industrial revolution had impoverished the English working class, and declared: “In all countries of Europe it has now become a truth demonstrable to every unprejudiced mind, and only denied by those whose interest is to hedge other people in a fool’s paradise, that no improvement of machinery, no appliance of science to production, no contrivances of communication, no new colonies, no emigration, no opening of markets, no free trade, nor all these things put together, will do away with the miseries of the industrious masses.”

     Marx continued to control this, the First Internationale, until its Congress in Basle in 1869, when the delegates were captivated by Bakunin.[5] Richard Wagner said of Bakunin: “In this remarkable man, the purest humanitarianism [!] was combined with a savagery utterly inimical to all culture, and thus my relationship with him fluctuated between instinctive horror and irresistible attraction… The annihilation of all civilisation was the objective on which he had set his heart; to use all political levers as a means to this end was his current preoccupation, and it often served him as a pretext for ironic merriment.”[6]

     Bakunin, wrote Berlin, “was a born agitator with sufficient scepticism in his system not to be taken in himself by his own torrential eloquence. To dominate individuals and sway assemblies was his métier: he belonged to that odd, fortunately not very numerous, class of persons who contrive to hypnotise others into throwing themselves into causes – if need be killing and dying for them – while themselves remaining coldly, clearly and ironically aware of the effect of the spells which they cast. When his bluff was called, as occasionally it was, for example, by Herzen, Bakunin would laugh with the greatest good nature, admit everything freely, and continue to cause havoc, if anything with greater unconcern than before. His path was strewn with victims, casualties, and faithful, idealistic converts; he himself remained a gay, easy-going, mendacious, irresistibly agreeable, calmly and coldly destructive, fascinating, generous, undisciplined, eccentric Russian landowner to the end…”[7]

     The basic difference between Marx and Bakunin was in their attitude to the State. While Marx called for the overthrow of the old regimes, he was not against the State as such, at any rate before the advent of the communist paradise, and believed that the State could be used to free the workers. And the importance of the State in his thinking, combined with a more “scientific” and collectivist approach, became more pronounced with time.

     “It meant,” as M.S. Anderson writes, “a fundamental change of emphasis in his thinking. The fulfilment and true freedom of the individual still remained the objective of revolution and the end of the historical process. As far as the making of revolutions was concerned, however, his ‘alienation’ and his revolutionary consciousness, so important in the early works of the 1840s and still important in those of the 1850s, were now threatened with submersion in a vast and impersonal process of social evolution governed by laws analogous to those of the physical world and quite impossible to divert or restrain.”[8]

     Bakunin, however, believed that the State was simply another form of oppression and had to be destroyed. “I am not a Communist,” he said, “because Communism, by concentrating all property in the State, necessarily leads to the concentration of all the power of society in the State. I want to abolish the State…”[9] Like the French philosopher-anarchist Proudhon, Bakunin believed that all property was theft, and that included State property. Like Proudhon again, he believed that States would be replaced by local workers’ organizations.

     Bakunin’s most famous remark was: “The desire to destroy is also a creative desire.” “The whole of Europe,” he said, “with St. Petersburg, Paris and London, will be transformed into an enormous rubbish-heap.” In 1883 Engels criticised Bakunin’s anarchism, writing: “The anarchists have put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organisation of the state… But to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly-conquered power, hold down its capitalist adversaries and carry out that economic revolution of society without which the whole victory must end in a new defeat and in a mass slaughter of the workers similar to those after the Paris Commune.”[10]

     True; and yet “Bakuninist” anarchism corresponded more closely to the spirit of the revolution than all the treatises of Marx, whose only purpose was to give a pseudo-scientific justification to an essentially destructive, satanic force. Thus the victory of Bakunin over Marx at the meeting of the First Internationale in Basle was no accident – the delegates recognized in Bakunin the true incarnation of the spirit of the revolution.

     As Baron Wrangel said of his speech: “I no longer remember what Bakunin said, and it would in any case scarcely be possible to reproduce it. His speech had neither logical sequence nor richness in ideas, but consisted of thrilling phrases and rousing appeals. It was something elemental and incandescent – a raging storm with lightning flashes and thunderclaps, and a roaring as of lions. The man was a born speaker, made for the revolution. The revolution was his natural being. His speech made a tremendous impression. If he had asked his hearers to cut each other’s throats, they would have cheerfully obeyed him.”[11]

     Another person present at Bakunin’s speech was Dostoyevsky. He said that the whole speech had been given “without the slightest proof, all this was learned by rote twenty years ago and has not changed one bit. Fire and sword! And when all has been destroyed, then, in their opinion, there will be peace…”

     And yet Bakunin’s anarchism was not just thunder and lightning. For him “the withering away of the State” was not, as in Marx and Engels, an essentially utopian idea that was secondary to the central idea of class struggle[12]: for him, it was the heart of the matter. Being a more consistent libertarian than any of the Marxists, he perceived that even the socialist State would be an instrument of oppression. In fact, he warned that the “red bureaucracy” would be “the vilest and most dangerous lie of the century”. And in 1870 he accurately predicted what actually took place in 1917: “Take the most radical of revolutionaries and place him on the throne of all the Russias or give him dictatorial powers… and before the year is out he will be worse than the Tsar himself…”

     Bakunin’s vision of socialism looked more likely than Marx’s to triumph in the years 1869-1871, between the Basle Congress and the Paris Commune. However, Marx defeated Bakunin by claiming that the Paris Commune was the beginning of the new proletarian (as opposed to bourgeois) revolution, which would spread from France to Germany to all Europe. It did spread, but not in the way he predicted: its first success was in peasant Russia, not proletarian Germany – as Bakunin, not Marx, had predicted.

     For Bakunin was able to foresee, as Berlin wrote, “that [revolutions] were liable to develop not in the most industrialised societies, on a rising curve of economic progress, but in countries in which the majority of the population was near subsistence level and had least to lose by an upheaval – primitive peasants in conditions of desperate poverty in backward rural economies where capitalism was weakest, such as Spain and Russia.”[13]


     Marx and Engels had this in common with Bakunin: they saw clearly that the enemy that had to be destroyed if the revolution was to succeed was Russia. As Engels said: “Not one revolution in Europe and in the whole world can attain final victory while the present Russian state exists…”[14]

     But the man who saw this most clearly was Bakunin: “The goal of the revolution is Russia! It is there that its greatest power will unfold; there will it attain its perfection. In Moscow the constellation of the revolution will rise high and beautiful out of a sea of blood and fire, to become the guiding star for the good of the whole of liberated humanity…” “Russian democracy with its tongues of fire will swallow up all of Europe in a bloody glow.” “The miracles of the revolution,” he said, “will come out of the depths of this fiery ocean. Russia is the aim of the revolution, its greatest forces will be unleashed there, and there it will attain its perfection.”

     As Hosking remarks, “this proved to be a contagious and attractive vision, not only in Russia but especially there.”[15]


June 2/15, 2020.




[1] Wurmbrand, Was Karl Marx a Satanist? Diane Books, 1976, pp. 18-19, 20-22.

[2] Evans, The Pursuit of Power. Europe 1815-1914, London: Penguin, 2017, p. 177.

[3] Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom, London: Vintage, 2018, pp. 30-31.

[4] Berlin, “Historical Inevitability”, The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1998, pp. 135-141.

[5] Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station, London: Phoenix, 2004, pp. 256-258, 259-260, 261.

[6] Wagner, in Stephen Johnson, Wagner. His Life and His Work, London: Naxos, 2007. P. 59.

[7] Berlin, “German Romanticism in Petersburg and Moscow”, in Russian Thinkers, London: Penguin, 2008, pp. 164-165.

[8] M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, 1815-1914, London: Longman, 1985, pp. 350-351.

[9] Bakunin, in Julius Braunthal, History of the International 1864-1914, 1966, p. 139.

[10] Engels, in Chomsky, Understanding Power, pp. 31-32.

[11] Wrangel, in Wilson, op. cit., p. 269.

[12] Gareth Stedman-Jones writes: “Visions of the disappearance of the state [in Marx] belonged to the 1840s: 1848 dashed these innocent hopes” (“The Routes of Revolution”, BBC History Magazine, vol. 3 (6), June, 2002, p. 36).

[13] Berlin, “Nationalism”, in The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1998, p. 584.

[14] Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx and the Revolutionary Movement in Russia.

[15] Hosking, Russia and Russians, p. 307.

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