Written by Vladimir Moss



     “Well before the outbreak of the First World War,” writes Sir Richard Evans, “Europe had undergone a social revolution of major dimensions, but of a very different kind from that imagined by Marx or Bakunin. Alongside the political transformation that had convulsed the Continent between 1848 and 1871, the relations between classes had also been transformed, though over a longer period. The traditional landowning aristocracy had been undermined by the forces of economic change, by political reforms such as the abolition of serfdom, by the advent of elected legislatures, however limited their powers, by the ending of corporate privileges such as those that had sustained the Baltic nobility earlier in the century, and by the increasing wealth and ambition of the business, banking and professional classes. A new, hybrid social elite had emerged, based on bourgeois values of thrift, hard work, sobriety and responsibility. These values had come to dominate society and politics in large parts of Europe, finding their expression in urban renewal, sanitation and hygiene, agricultural improvements, penal reform, and the attempt, not always successful, to impose order on the criminal or semi-criminal underworld. They percolated down in various forms to the petty bourgeoisie and the respectable working class, however much their politics may have varied from those of doctors, lawyers, teachers, or businessmen. This was a very different social world from that which emerged from the upheavals of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars…”[1]


     In addition to these changes we see the creation of the movement for women’s emancipation, which may be said to have started with John Stuart Mills’ highly influential tract, The Subjection of Women (1869). Feminist organizations – often linked with socialism - were created in several European countries; the largest was the Women’s Social and Political Union in Britain, the so-called “suffragettes”.[2] However, feminism made little headway in terms of political changes before 1914…


     “The emergence of women in the public sphere,” writes Evans, “was paralleled by a major reorientation of the state in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe. This was above all a response to the increasingly powerful articulation of working-class interests, a fundamental aspect of the challenge of democracy in this period. Labour unrest reached unprecedented heights in the last decade and a half before the outbreak of the First World War…”[3]


     The reorientation was towards what we now call the welfare state. Now welfarism was not new. As early as 1601, according to Robert Tombs, “the best system of poor relief in Europe” had been introduced “under Elizabeth’s Poor Law Act (1601), brought in to replace monastic charity”.[4] Nevertheless, the Church remained the main helper of the poor for a long time. Until the late nineteenth century, as Evans writes, “poverty in its deepest and most radical form had been the object of religious philanthropy, which was gradually being replaced by private and municipal initiative. In Britain it was driven forward in particular by middle-class women such as Octavia Hill (1838-1912), who pioneered the ‘model dwelling’ movement for improved working-class housing, and founded the Charity Organization Society in 1869. This introduced into England the Elberfeld System of poor relief, pioneered in 1852 as a response to the 1848 Revolution in the industrial conurbation where Friedrich Engels grew up. The System established a network of overseers whose task it was to visit the poor, recommend a suitable level of support, check on the probity of their domestic circumstances, and find them a job as soon as possible, which they were obliged to accept on pain of forfeiting their benefits. It took the problem of poverty out of the hands of the Church and turned relief into an instrument of secular social control. The changing rules of secular and ecclesiastical charity over the decades can be observed with particular clarity in the case of the Netherlands, where a new law passed in 1854 made the Churches the primary relief agency; municipalities were only to step in as a last resort. More and more, however, the state had to take on the burden of support – covering 40 per cent of the costs of poor relief in 1855, and 57 per cent in 1913. The medical profession increasingly urged a more dynamic approach to health care, because as the Dutch social commentator Jeronimo de Bosch Kemper (1808-76) wrote in 1851: ‘Improve the health of the people and you will have removed a major, a very great cause of poverty.’ The debate continued until in 1901 the Netherlands finally introduced a Public Health Ace, a Housing Act and an Industrial Injuries Act, taking away the primary task of combatting poverty from the Church to which it had been entrusted in the previous century. In many respects, however, such secular institutions were not so different from the traditional charitable institutions of the Christian Churches…


     “The rise of the welfare state was in essence a response to the growing popularity of left-wing politics, especially among the working-class. Conservatives and liberals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries could see no greater threat to their political position than that posed by socialism, whose central tenets were diametrically opposed to the priority given by mainstream political parties to the idea of the nation. Under the influence of Marx and Engels and their disciples, socialists came to believe that workers in industrialized or industrializing countries were so exploited and oppressed that they owed no allegiance to the capitalists who ruled them nor to the nation state they controlled. Still less did they have an interest in fighting wars, which would only use them as cannon fodder while industrialists grew fat on war profits. The declared aim of the socialist movement was to overthrow the central institutions of ‘bourgeois’ society, including private property, business corporations, the police, the army, the Church, and even the family. They were to be replaced by a state in which property would be owned collectively, children brought up communally, religion abolished, and businesses run by the workers. In practice, however, the politics of socialism turned out to be more complex, and less frightening, than these terrifying visions suggested. The socialists’ bark was often worse than their bite, and the grand intentions stated in party programmes were in many cases belied by the pragmatism of socialist politicians in practice. Part of the reason for these developments was indeed the rise of the welfare state, which gave the workers a growing stake in the society that socialist theory said should be destroyed. To that extent, the political intentions of its architects could be said to have been fulfilled…”[5]  


     The welfare state, according to Philip Bobbitt, arose together with the shift, in the late nineteenth century, from the state-nation to the nation-state, from a more liberal to a more collectivist ideal of politics. The logic of this was clear. If the state serves the nation, rather than the other way round, it must deliver a minimum of material prosperity to all the people. For conservatives, this had the added attraction that it pre-empted the socialists who were trying to overthrow the state. Thus in 1884 Bismarck said: "Give the working man a right to work as long as he is healthy, assure him care when he is sick, assure him maintenance when he is old. If you do that and do not fear the sacrifice, or cry out at state socialism - if the state will show a little more Christian solicitude for the working man, then I believe that the gentlemen of the social-democratic programme will sound their bird-call in vain."[6]


     "Far from being the paradoxical fact it is sometimes presented as, Bismarck's championing of the first state welfare systems in modern Europe, including the first social security program, was crucial to the perception of the State as deliverer of the people's welfare. If the wars of the state-nations were wars of the State that were made into wars of the peoples, then the wars of the nation-states were national wars, fought on behalf of popular ideals. The legitimation of the nation-state thus depends upon its success at maintaining modern life; a severe economic depression will undermine its legitimacy in a way that far more severe financial crises scarcely shoot earlier regimes."[7] Thus according to Harari, Bismarck’s “chief aim was to ensure the loyalty of the citizens rather than to increase their well-being. You fought for your country when you were eighteen, and paid your taxes when you were forty, because you counted on the state to take care of you when you were seventy.”[8]


     According to Sir Arnold Toynbee, the German model of the welfare state showed "how to raise a whole population to a standard of unprecedented social efficiency by a system of compulsory education and of unprecedented social security, by a system of compulsory health and unemployment insurance."[9]E.P. Thompson writes: "Just as Germany provided the most spectacular example, in those years, of massive and speedy industrial expansion, so she also set the pace in systematic social legislation. The emphasis in The German system lay neither on factory legislation, which Bismarck distrusted as external interference in employers' affairs, nor on unemployment insurance, which he treated as of minor importance. It aimed at a comprehensive national provision for security against the three commonest vicissitudes of urban life - sickness, accident, and incapacity in old age. Acts tackling successively these three problems were passed in 1883, 1884, and 1889. In 1911 the whole law of social insurance was codified and extended to various classes of non-industrial workers, such as agricultural labourers and domestic servants. Before these laws were passed, a multitude of local provisions had been made voluntarily by benefit societies, guilds, burial clubs, and parishes. The Reich system utilized these older forms but gradually absorbed and replaced them by new local and factory associations which administered the insurance schemes. By 1913 some fourteen and a half million persons were insured in this way. To the sickness and pension funds, both workers and employers contributed and both were represented on their management. In the course of time such benefits as free medical attendance and hospital care were extended, and by 1914 codes of factory legislation and of child labour were at last added. Although the prewar Reich did not set up unemployment insurance, it set up labour exchanges, and some municipalities had local schemes of insurance and relief for unemployed workers. Germans were pioneers in the thoroughness and extent of their welfare system. When war began, German workers were more protected against the hazards of an industrial society than those of any other country. This was a not unimportant element in her national solidarity and strength."[10]


     The rest of Europe was quick to follow where Germany led. "Everywhere the state shouldered new kinds of responsibility for the safety and well-being of its citizens, and the principle of contributory insurance helped to reconcile laissez-faire individualism with this spectacular growth of state activity.”[11]


     Although this ideological change was made first in Germany, it is most clearly seen in Britain, where, in the first half of the century, as John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write, the liberals had taken “a decrepit old system and reformed it, establishing a professional civil service, attacking cronyism, opening up markets, and restricting the state’s right to subvert liberty. The British state shrunk in size even as it dealt with the problems of a fast industrializing society and a rapidly expanding global empire. Gross income from all forms of taxation fell from just under 80 million pounds in 1816 to well under 60 million pounds in 1846, despite a nearly 50 percent increase in the size of the population. The vast network of patronage appointees who made up the unreformed state was rolled up and replaced by a much small cadre of carefully selected civil servants. The British Empire built a ‘night-watchman state’, as it was termed by the German socialist Ferdinand Lasalle, which was both smaller and more competent than its rivals across the English Channel.

     “The thinker who best articulated these changes was John Stuart Mill, who at first strove to place freedom, rather than security, at the heart of governance, but later subtly changed the emphasis of his thought…

     “For most of the nineteenth century, the British state did a remarkably good job of embodying Mill’s principles. A succession of British governments dismantled old systems of privilege and patronage and replaced them with a capitalist state. Government, the Victorians believed, should solve problems rather than simply collect rents. They built railways, paved roads, and furnished cities with sewage systems and policemen, known as ‘bobbies’, after their inventor, Sir Robert Peel.


     “Throughout the nineteenth century, this kind of lean government liberalism spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic to the United States. Yet its moment did not last long. Mill himself typified the change. The older he grew, the more troubled he became by some profound questions, mainly to do with the persistence of poverty among plenty. How could a society judge each individual on his or her own merits when rich dunces enjoyed the best educations and poor geniuses left school as children to work as chimney sweeps? How could individuals achieve their full potential unless society played a role in providing them with a fair start? The state, he came to feel, had to do more. By its third edition, Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, the bible of British liberalism, had begun to look ever more collectivist…


     “Mill was not alone: the late Victorians (and their imitators around the world) increasingly questioned the laissez-faire certainties of their predecessors, on two grounds. First, the night-watchman state stigmatized the poor: they were deprived of the vote and consigned to workhouses in order to discourage idleness and provide incentives to work and save. In his 1854 novel, Hard Times, Charles Dickens turned ‘utilitarianism’, the term commonly attached to Mill’s thought, into a byword for heartless calculation. Second, British critics of liberalism argued that the only way to outcompete other nations, especially Prussia, was to expand the state. Confronted with Prussia’s world-class public educational system and effective tariffs, the British elite fretted about the naivety of free trade and the quality of their country’s breeding stock…”[12]


     Britain’s first welfare legislation may be said to have been Disraeli's Public Health Act of 1875 and Housing Acts of the late 1870s. However, most Conservatives continued to oppose welfarism. As late as 1886, the minister responsible for the Poor Law, Joseph Chamberlain, said: "The spirit of independence which leads so many of the working classes to make great personal sacrifices rather than incur the stigma of pauperism, is one which deserves the greatest sympathy and respect... It is not desirable that the working classes should be familiarized with poor relief."[13]


     But the success of the London Dockers’ strike in 1889 showed that the age of labour arrived (the creation of the Labour Party followed soon after), and changes had to be made. Moreover, somebody had to pay for them…


     "In Britain the greatest constitutional crisis of the [pre-1914] period, involving a long conflict between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, arose over this very issue. In his budget of 1909 the Liberal chancellor of the exchequer, David Lloyd George, included the whole gamut of new fiscal devices which had been evolving for some years: heavy duties on tobacco and liquor; heavier death duties on personal estates, which had first been introduced by Sir William Harcourt in 1894; graded and heavier income tax; and additional 'supertax' on incomes above a fairly high level; a duty of twenty per cent on the unearned increment of land values, to be paid whenever land changed hands; and a charge on the capital value of undeveloped land and minerals. The Conservative majority in the House of Lords broke convention by rejecting this budget until it could be referred to the electorate for approval, and so initiated a two-year battle, which was ended only by the surrender of the Lords and the passing of the Parliament Act of 1911. This important Act permanently removed the Lords' control over money bills and reduced their power over other bills to a mere capacity to delay them for two years. The merit of death duties, income tax, and supertax in the eyes of radicals and socialists - and their infamy in the eyes of conservatives and more moderate liberals - was that once accepted in principle they were capable of yielding an ever greater return by a simple tightening of the screw. The screw was, in fact, repeatedly tightened throughout the following half century.


     "During the 1890s, pari passu with the growth of governmental expenditures on social services and on armaments, Germany and her component states, as well as Italy, Austria, Norway, and Spain, all introduced or steepened systems of income tax. France repeatedly shied away from it, though in 1901 she resorted to progressive death duties; it was 1917 before she at last introduced a not very satisfactory system of income tax. With the drift back to protectionism in commercial policy in the last quarter of the century, indirect taxes generally yielded a higher share of revenue than before. Every state had clung to considerable sources of indirect taxation, and as late as 1900 the bulk of the revenue of most governments came from these sources. Progressive taxation, weighing heavier on the more wealthy, was accepted by liberals as in accord with the principle of equality of sacrifice. To radicals and socialists it was welcome in itself as an instrument for achieving greater equality by systematically redistributing wealth. The modern state was to assume more and more the role of Robin Hood, robbing the rich to feed the poor."[14]




     The question is: is the State right to take on the role of Robin Hood? To put it somewhat crudely: Is robbing the rich to feed the poor a Christian act? And if it cannot be called Christian at the level of the individual citizen, can it be justified at the level of the state? After all, almost all states have practiced some kind of taxation, even if the levels attained at the beginning of the twentieth century were far above the historical norm. Moreover, almost all states have used taxation to help the poor – although, again, not at the level of the pre-1914 generation.


     It could be argued that it was precisely the dechristianization of Europe that made the welfare state both necessary and inevitable. Until the nineteenth century, in both East and West, the poor had been looked after by individual wealthy Christians and by the Church; alms-giving remained a cardinal virtue, and the best Church leaders took poor relief very seriously. Thus it was said of St. Gregory the Great (+604) that he would not receive Communion as long as there was one beggar on the streets of Rome.


     But the eradication of poverty was never seen as the primary aim of alms-giving. The Lord had said, “The poor you have always with you” (John 12.8), so the complete elimination of poverty was a utopian dream. God, it was believed by Christians, allows some people to be rich and others to be poor for the salvation of both categories – the rich by showing compassion on the poor and through the prayers of those whom they help, and the poor by enduring poverty with patience and thanksgiving, like Lazarus in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16.19-31). And all this is done in the name of Christ and for the sake of salvation in Christ, the Poor Man par excellence: indeed, by giving to the poor man in the name of Christ, you are giving to Christ Himself, Who will reward you accordingly (Matthew 24.31-46). In this way, as the Holy Fathers explained, social inequality can serve for the salvation of all.


     However, after the French revolution, the Christian approach to poverty and inequality was increasingly discarded. Under the influence of the false ideas of the revolution, poverty was considered a "scandal", whose solution lay not in voluntary charity by the rich to the poor, but in compulsory taxation of the rich and handouts to the poor administered by "expert" intellectuals. Of course, socialism did not arise on any empty space: it filled the gap caused by the decline in Christian faith and morality with its own faith and morality. Socialism provided a kind of faith that appeared to many to be an expression of Christian love. The question is: is there really such a thing as Socialist Christianity?


     At this stage we need to make use of the distinction between minimum (welfare) and maximum (revolutionary) socialism used by E. P. Thompson. After reviewing the proliferation of socialist parties before 1914, Thompson suggests "two general conclusions that have great importance for the later history of Europe. One is that within socialism there was a recurrent and inescapable cleavage: between those parties which, from an early stage in their growth, came to terms with the institutions of parliamentary democracy, with trade unionism and the cooperative movements; and those which held to more absolutist revolutionary doctrines, whether of Marxism or anarchism, and so dedicated themselves to the task of fighting and overthrowing all other parties and institutions. The best examples of the former are the British and Scandinavian Labour parties and the parliamentary socialist groups of France and Italy; of the latter, the supreme example is the Russian Social Democratic party after 1903. It had not yet become customary to distinguish between them by labelling the former Socialists, the latter Communists. That convention arose only after 1918. But here was the origin of the mid twentieth-century cleavage between western parliamentary socialism and eastern revolutionary communism. All the essentials of that conflict are already present in 1914, save that neither socialism nor communism had by then won power in any country.


     "The second conclusion is that parliamentary socialism, like other working-class movements and organizations, grew and flourished most where the traditions and institutions of liberal democracy had already become most fully established. It was in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and France that reformist socialism took shape most quickly and won its earliest triumphs. Wherever universal suffrage remained for a long time impeded, as in Italy and Austria-Hungary, or wherever its operation was severely limited by strong central authority, as in Germany, socialists went on using the language and preaching the ideas of revolutionary doctrinaire Marxism… The pattern of socialism is, so to speak, a pattern superimposed on the territorial distribution of liberalism and democracy, and matches the extent of the new electorate.


     "These conclusions are clinched by a comparison of the minimum and maximum programmes of policy which the different parties drew up and endorsed at various times. In western countries the parliamentary socialist parties, committed to seeking votes in order to gain political representation, normally drew up minimum programmes of those reforms best calculated to win broad electoral support. Inevitably these were mostly concerned with widening of the franchise, social welfare legislation, an eight-hour day, and improvement of conditions of work. Such was the minimum programme which the Italian Socialist party drew up in 1895. Their more abstract ideological aims were relegated to ultimate or maximum programmes, which appealed more to the intellectuals and preserved something of the party's doctrinal character. Thus, when the French socialist groups combined in 1905, they drew up a common programme which included a statement of ultimate collectivism, of the party's resolve to socialize the means of production and of exchange, and a protestation that it was 'not a party of reform but a party of class struggle and revolution': but it also included an assurance that 'in parliament, the socialist group must dedicate itself to the defence and extension of political liberties and the rights of workers, to the promotion and realization of reforms which will ameliorate the conditions of life and of the class struggle of the working classes'. The difference of emphasis between French and German socialism emerges if this statement is compared with the German Social Democrats' Erfurt Programme, which they adopted in 1891. It was a more thoroughgoing Marxist statement than its predecessor, the Gotha programme of 1875. It propounded orthodox Marxist philosophy as its very foundation, and gave this theoretical basis more prominence.


     “But it added, as its immediate and practical aims, demands closely similar to those of Gotha, or of the Italian and French minimum programmes: including universal direct suffrage for men and women over twenty, freedom of expression and meeting, secular education, an eight-hour day, social welfare legislation, and progressive income tax.


     "The more fundamental difference between all western socialism and Russian communism becomes clear if these programmes are compared with the Russian Social Democratic programme adopted in 1903. It too, in accordance with precedent, was divided into maximum and minimum aims. But it was not exposed to the Italian or French or German danger of exalting the minimum at the expense of the maximum, in order to gain electoral votes. In western countries since 1871 (and even since 1848) the whole notion of a minimum programme depended on its being attainable within the existing framework of capitalist society without revolution.; the whole point of the maximum programme was to keep before men's eyes the doctrines and the ultimate aims of socialism, but to relegate them to a distinct category of aims unattainable without revolution. In Russia both minimum and maximum programmes were of necessity revolutionary. The minimum political demands of 1903 began with the revolutionary overthrow of the tsarist regime and its replacement by a democratic republic. The minimum economic demands were those normally included in the minimum demands of western socialists: an eight-hour day and six-day week; effective factory inspection; state insurance against sickness and old age; the confiscation of church lands. But these, too, in Russia before 1914, were revolutionary demands, and there was no essential difference between this minimum programme and the maximum programme of the proletarian socialist revolution. Indeed the most important decision taken in 1903... was not about programmes at all, but about the actual organization of the party as a militant force, tempered for the struggle against the whole existing order...


     "These differences of programmes and of organization involve a still wider contrast. It was not merely an issue of whether socialism should be economic or political in its scope, whether it should concentrate on capturing or on destroying existing states. To enter into competition with other parliamentary parties for winning votes, and to win from government concessions of value to the working classes, enmeshed every social democratic party, however vocal its protestations of ultimate proletarian purposes, in more nationalistic ways of thinking and behaviour. In universal suffrage what counts is the vote of the individual elector, whatever his class; and in restricted electorates majorities lie with the non-proletarian electors. The leaders of a parliamentary socialist party instinctively think in terms not of classes but of individual voters and of majorities. They find themselves thinking in general, national terms, rather than in narrow terms of class war. Their working-class supporters, benefiting increasingly from legislation in their interests passed and enforced by the national state, likewise think more and more in national and non-revolutionary terms, since they become aware that they have more to lose than their chains. The growth of social democracy and parliamentary labour parties brought about a nationalizing of socialism. This changing outlook was at variance with the older traditions of universal humanitarian socialism which were inherently internationalist in outlook, just as it was in conflict with the resolutely internationalist tenets of orthodox Marxism. The conflicts between socialist movements that had been domesticated or 'nationalized', and revolutionary movements that still thought exclusively in terms of class war and proletarian action, were fought out before 1914. They repeatedly arose in the many congresses of the First and Second Internationals, until in 1914 the supreme issue seemed to be socialism versus nationalism.”[15]


     According to this analysis, the "domestication" of socialism in western countries, its yoking to nationalist feeling, was a product of their progress towards universal suffrage, whereas the internationalist, revolutionary character of socialism in the East was a product of its failure to democratize. So the causal nexus was as follows: in the west: democracy => socialism => national socialism; in the east: autocracy => democracy => revolution => international socialism. This would suggest that the triumph of national socialism in Germany in the 1930s was a natural consequence of German historical development, and could well have happened elsewhere in the West, whereas the triumph of international socialism in Russia was an unnatural consequence of - in fact a break in - her natural development. This conclusion runs directly counter to western historians' usual claim that German fascism was a freakish departure from the normal western democratic development, whereas Soviet communism was a natural development of Tsarist "despotism".


     Evidence for this thesis is provided by the fact that the major forms of Christianity in Eastern and Western Europe - that is, the "souls" of the eastern and western peoples - reacted quite differently to the progress of democracy and socialism. In the East, the Orthodox Church rejected democracy, and upheld autocracy, on principled, scriptural grounds: that the source of authority in both Church and State is the will of God, not the will of the people (Romans 13.1), and that the task of political authority is to incarnate the will of God in the life of the people - the ruler is permitted to carry out the people's will only to the extent that it is compatible with the will of God. The West, however, had become reconciled to the logical contradiction between "by the grace of God" and "by the will of the people" a long time since - in England by 1688, in France by 1789 and more solidly by 1848, and in Italy and Germany by 1870. Western Christianity - Roman Catholicism more than Protestantism, since the latter, in itself a revolutionary teaching, was almost always on the side of the revolution - offered resistance to the march of democracy and socialism. But it was half-hearted and ineffective. By the end of the nineteenth century even the pope had become reconciled with democracy, and by the end of the twentieth, in accordance with Dostoyevsky's prophecy in The Devils, with socialism, too - as long as it was "with a human face".


     To many, welfarism appeared to be a Christian product of socialism, a proof that Christianity and socialism were compatible. But this was to ignore both the nature of Christianity and the nature of socialism in its original and "purer" forms. Historically, the founders of socialism were certainly antichristian. Not only Marx and Engels, but before them Saint Simon, Fourier and Owen, were all antichristian theorists. For them, Socialism was much, much more than welfarism. It was and is a whole world-view based on atheism and materialism and directly opposed to Christianity. It stood for an omnipotent State that squeezed religion as far as possible out of the public arena. And this is what Socialist states, both welfarist and revolutionary, have tended to do. Moreover, even in non-Socialist but democratic states, the idea that the will of the people is supreme tends to squeeze out the idea that it is the will of God that is supreme. For Christians, on the other hand, the will of the people can never be the criterion of truth: the possibility always exists that “God is true, while every man is a liar” (Romans 3.4).


     Richard Pipes writes: "Socialism is commonly thought of as a theory which aims at a fairer distribution of wealth for the ultimate purpose of creating a free and just society. Indisputably this is the stated program of socialists. But behind this program lurks an even more ambitious goal, which is creating a new type of human being. The underlying premise is the idea of Helvétius that by establishing an environment which makes social behaviour a natural instinct, socialism will enable man to realize his potential to the fullest. This, in turn, will make it possible, ultimately, to dispense with the state and the compulsion which is said to be its principal attribute. All socialist doctrines, from the most moderate to the most extreme, assume that human beings are infinitely malleable because their personality is the product of the economic environment: a change in that environment must, therefore, alter them as well as their behaviour.


     "Marx pursued philosophical studies mainly in his youth. When, as a twenty-six-year-old émigré in Paris, he immersed himself in philosophy, he at once grasped the political implications of the ideas of Helvétius and his French contemporaries. In The Holy Family (1844-45), the book which marked his and Engels's break with idealistic radicalism, he took his philosophical and psychological premises directly from Locke and Helvétius: 'The whole development of man...,' he wrote, 'depends on education and environment.' 'If man draws all his knowledge, sensations, etc., from the world of the senses and the experience gained from it, the empirical world must be arranged so that in it man experiences and gets used to what is really human... If man is shaped by his surroundings, his surroundings must be made human.'


     "This, the locus classicus of Marxist philosophy, justifies a total change in the way society is organized - that is, revolution. According to this way of thinking, which indeed inexorably flows from the philosophical premises of Locke and Helvétius, man and society do not come into existence by a natural process but are 'made'. This 'radical behaviorism', as it has been called, inspired Marx in 1845 to coin what is probably his most celebrated aphorism: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.' Of course, the moment a thinker begins to conceive his mission to be not 'only' observing the world and adapting to it, but changing it, he ceases to be a philosopher and turns into a politician with his own political agenda and interests.


     "Now, the world can conceivably be 'changed' gradually, by means of education and legislation. And such a gradual change is, indeed, what all intellectuals would advocate if their exclusive concern were with improving the human condition, since evolution allows for trial and error, the only proven road to progress. But many of those who want to change the world regard human discontent as something not to be remedied but exploited. Exploitation of resentment, not its satisfaction, has been at the center of socialist politics since the 1840s: it is what distinguished the self-styled 'scientific' socialists from their 'utopian' forerunners. This attitude has led to the emergence of what Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu called in 1902, in a remarkably prescient book, the 'politics of hatred'. Socialism, he noted, elevates 'hatred to the heights of principle', sharing with its mortal enemies, nationalism and anti-Semitism, the need "chirurgically" to isolate and destroy the alleged enemy.' Committed radicals fear reform because it deprives them of leverage and establishes the ruling elite more solidly in power: they prefer the most savage repression. The slogan of Russian revolutionaries - 'chem khuzhe, tem luchshe' ('the worse, the better') spelled out this kind of thinking."[16]


     Thus while Christian alms-giving is, or should be, based on love, socialist redistribution is often based on the politics of envy and hatred. Of course, individual Socialists may be – and very often are – motivated by real care for the poor, and enter Socialist politics with no other motive than to alleviate their lot. Nevertheless, the philosophical basis of Socialism is clearly anti-christian. This is not to say that minimal socialism, i.e. welfarism, is incompatible with Christianity or Christian governance. On the contrary: it is difficult to see how any modern country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries could have survived without a vast increase of the state budget and state activity to protect the masses from the consequences of modern urban civilization. Orthodox Russia was no exception to this rule. In practice, however, - and we see this in even the more moderate socialist parties, - it has proved impossible to "insulate" minimal socialism completely from the antichristian theories of maximal socialism.


     Moreover, the “minimal” Socialism of welfarism, no less thoroughly, if more slowly, than “maximal”, revolutionary Socialism, hastens those processes of equalization and homogenization that have come to dominate the modern world to such a harmful degree. These processes were sharply criticized by Constantine Leontiev. "True," he wrote, "the division of Germany [before 1871] sometimes hindered the unity of order, but it also hindered the unity of anarchy."[17]


     "The unity of anarchy", in Leontiev's meaning, was the seemingly unstoppable tendency throughout Europe towards a democratic, egalitarian, atheist society: "Everything in that assimilationist direction from which nothing in the 19th century, neither war nor peace, neither friendship nor enmity, neither liberation nor the conquest of countries and nations, can save. And they will not save until the point of satiety with equality and homogeneity is reached."[18]


     For, as Fr. Basil Sakkas writes, “the technocratic civilization of Antichrist strives to attain two things: a) the peas which fill the tin can have to be a certain uniform size; (b) the men who dwell on earth have to become alike, like those canned peas [‘peas in a pod’, to use the English expression].


     “In order to rule, Antichrist has no need of individuals who are free and conscious, but of ‘atoms’ which constitute cells, which in turn make up an amorphous, homogeneous and anonymous mass. He seeks to achieve this by various means, utilizing idealistic slogans such as ‘Liberty’, ‘Equality’, ‘Brotherhood’, etc., which, however, have as their basic principle the destruction of the idea of the hierarchy of values. By means of Judeo-Masonry, he aims at the equalization of all persons and all things. Since the family is the strength of the individual and of a conscientious society, it must be abolished slowly by degrees. By means of feminism, he aims first at the equalization of the two sexes, which would replace the hierarchical distinction between man and woman. Then he proposes a ‘new couple’ which would possess a hierarchical ‘joint-rule’ and equality between male and female, an equalization from the point of equal rights sot that there would be no real head in the new family. He also institutes an equalization of vocations and the outward signs of distinction, and moreover, an equalization of external appearances; the distinction that exists in their dress and hair style must also be confounded. Unfortunately, there are few who recognize that the spirit of Antichrist brings about new formulas in the social structure which have already created dreadful spiritual consequences for the entire world. The family is also warred upon by the decay of morals. The mothers and fathers of tomorrow are often so spiritually and carnally depraved, they can only transmit to their children what they themselves possess. And yet one speaks of ‘liberation’.


     “The equalization of individuals is performed principally in the religious and spiritual domains. Until recently, each heresy claimed the truth exclusively for itself. Today, however, things are presented under a completely different light. Truth becomes nothing but a relative matter and, in reality, does not exist: it is necessary to destroy the spiritual faculties which God has given man. We do not oppose the cinema and the theatre and television from a spirit of pietism or puritanism, but we ascertain each day that a terrible influence is exercised by these spectacles which seek to inactivate the human mind, which itself has become exhausted and lulled and brings itself to a state of doubt and indifference towards God. Through these things, eternity had become something which is uncertain for man, and he limits his efforts to visible things which are the only things he accepts as real and certain. Thus, he joins with other men in their efforts to attain common and earthly ideals; the ‘things which are unseen’ constitute a utopia and an uncertainty as far as he is concerned.


     “The natural consequence of this is for man to improve the conditions of his life on this earth, not in a pacific manner but in a pacifist one. The Church becomes an obstacle for him since She constantly reminds him of the futility of this world and endeavours to orient his attention towards the heavens and the things which are to come. The Church demands sacrifices, purity, effort, affliction and rejects all overestimation of earthly things. Hence, the clouded mind is no longer able to discern the absoluteness of the Truth of the Gospels, and it seeks to appease its conscience by a compromise between the demands of religion and the demands of the materialistic world. It seeks to receive an assurance of everlasting life (for itself) just in case there really does exist an eternal life after death. Antichrist has already taken this metaphysical need of man into consideration and thus he has proposed an idealistic religion to him with high-sounding words and slogans: ‘God is love, and therefore we must love all men and consider them as brothers aside from their religious beliefs.’ Above all else, we must ‘live in peace with one another with sentiments of mutual respect towards the ideas, customs, usages and traditions of others’: we must turn out attention towards always doing good and we should come to aid of others who are in need and especially those who suffer; because ‘it is of little importance what one believes, just so long as he is sincere in his convictions and his motives’ and many other such words does he say which, at first sight, fascinate one.


     “Since heresy strives by means of a half truth to conceal the other half, there is never mention made of the second coming of Christ, or of eternal Judgement, or of confessing the Faith ‘even to death’: nor are the many admonitions of the Gospel heeded, such as ‘strait is the gate and narrow is the way ‘ (Matthew 6.12), ‘we must through much affliction enter into the Kingdom of God’ (Acts14.22); ‘in the world ye shall have tribulation’ (John 16.33); the saved shall ‘come out of great tribulation’ (Apocalypse 7.14); nor, finally, that ‘the whole world lieth in evil’ (I John 5.19, Galatians 1.14, Ephesians 5.16), a fact which one encounters on almost every page of the Sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers.


     “Obviously, the coming of the Antichrist is not discussed (II Thessalonians 2) nor that in the last days ‘evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived’ (II Timothy 3.13), nor that ‘many shall be deceived’ (Mark 13.6) ‘if it were possible, even the elect’ (Mark 13.22), nor that ‘in the last days, people shall more and more become egoists, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof’ (II Timothy 3.2-3).”


September 25 / October 8, 2018.

St. Sergius of Radonezh.


[1] Evans, The Pursuit of Power. Europe 1815-1914, London: Penguin, 2017, pp. 353-354.

[2] Evans, op. cit., p. 538.

[3] Evans, op. cit., p. 548.

[4] Tombs, The English and their History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, p. 211.

[5] Evans, op. cit., pp. 552-553.

[6] Bismarck, in M.J. Cohen and John Major, History in Quotations, London: Cassell, 2004, p. 674.

[7] Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles, London: Penguin, 2002, p. 204.

[8] Harari, Homo Deus, London: Vintage, 2017, p. 36.

[9] Toynbee, A Study of History. Abridgement of vols. I-VI Oxford University Press, 1946, p. 95.

[10] Thompson, Europe since Napoleon, London: Penguin Books, 1966, p.358.

[11] Thompson, op. cit., p. 359.

[12] Micklethwait and Wooldridge, “The State of the State”, Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2014, pp. 122-124.

[13] Chamberlain, in Derek Fraser, The Welfare State, Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2000, pp. 33-34.

[14] Thompson, op. cit., p. 361.

[15] Thompson, op. cit., pp. 405-407, 408.

[16] Pipes, The Russian Revolution, 1899-1919, London: Collins Harvill, 1990, pp. 135-137.

[17] Leontiev, "Fourth Letter from Athos", Vostok, Rossia i Slavianstvo (The East, Russia and Slavdom),Moscow, 1996, p. 37.

[18] Leontiev, "Natsional'naia politika kak orudie vsemirnoj politiki", op. cit., p. 527.

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