Why Karl Marx Didn’t Pay His Servant

The German economist/philosopher Karl Marx claimed to be the voice of the working class. He wrote endless, confusing diatribes about how capitalism alienates workers from themselves. He ranted about how capitalism stole from the working class. For Marx capitalism was oppressive, abusive, manipulative and evil. However, historian Paul Johnson writes, “he never succeeded in unearthing one [worker] who was paid literally no wages at all. Yet, such a worker did exist, in his own household.” She was a servant named Elanor, whom Marx impregnated, denied, discarded, and, of course, never paid a single dime. It turns out that even the worst capitalists weren’t so bad as the first socialist.

This story, though almost comically ironic, is more haunting than anything else. Karl Marx, whose philosophy turned the world upside down, was an utterly despicable man. He left lovers, family members and friends in destitute poverty. He leached money from the rich capitalists he criticized and never paid back his debts. He was a racist, anti-semite, who saw women more like servants than humans. He was a violent dictator in his own party; he ran out anyone who disagreed with him. Ironically, the principle dissenters tended to be the workers who Marx claimed to represent. Yet, the few workers he actually met, he ran out, despised and terrorized.

All things considered, we may ask, how could so many people then (and now!) fall into the trap of believing the philosophy written by a man who lived his life so poorly. Well, some might respond, his life was disgusting, but what does that have to do with the quality of his ideas? Does someone need to live a good life to have good ideas?

The answer is yes, someone’s life is connected to their philosophy. Here’s why: our lives are imprinted into our philosophy. For example, Karl Marx’s debt, led him to hate Jews (who were the bankers of the time), which therefore led him to hate to private property. He then came up with philosophical self-justification, for why he did not need to pay back his debts, and why people like the private-property owning Jews were evil.

Let me go a step deeper. Karl Marx was a violent, totalitarian leader, who refused to actually listen to, or spend time with the working class. This violence, totalitarianism, and classism seeped into his philosophy so profoundly that the men in the following century, who actual put Marx’s philosophy to practice (Mao, Lenin, Stalin), ended up looking just like Marx: they were violent, totalitarian, classicists.

Isn’t it strange how Marx’s philosophy is not merely a set of ideas – it’s actually himself.

Of course, all of this is one of those grave historical ironies that we easily look back on with self-gratifying judgmentalism. But the truth is, that we’re all sinners like Marx, and none of our lives would stand up to the scrutiny of history’s searching eyes.

The truth is that we need someone who not only gives us a way to live, but lived in a way worth living. We need someone to live a perfect life, and then teach us how to live like he did. Jesus Christ is that person. He lived the perfect life that we ought to live, and died the death we ought to die.

We’re tempted to say that Marx never paid his servant, Elanor, because he was inconsistent with his philosophy. But he actually failed to pay her because he was consistent with his philosophy. In communist countries it was always the poorest, most marginalized people who suffered the most – and the same was true in Marx’s house. Marx’s life cannot be separated from his philosophy – his philosophy is a confused ideology, informed by a poorly lived life and following it makes us as poor as him.

While Marx was selfish, self-interested, and self-promoting (like all of us), Christ was selfless and self-sacrificing. He came with the good news that though we cannot save ourselves, God can and he has through Christ’s death. ‘Would you be like me?’, Jesus asks, ‘then take up your cross.’ We must die to ourselves by confessing our evil, and looking to God for our salvation. Then we will not only live with Christ, but like Christ.

*I am indebted to Paul Johnson’s book, Intellectuals, for the biographical information in this post.

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About Patrick K. Miller

Currently I am living in Columbia serving at the University of Missouri with Veritas, The Crossing's campus ministry. In December 2010 I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in English Literature. My beautiful wife, Emily, works is an Interior Designer with a local firm. I like espresso, 30 Rock, and books. My favorite old dead guys are John Owen, Augustine and Francis Schaeffer. You should read something by them.
This entry was posted in Campus Mind, Gospel Lifestyle, Postmodernism. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why Karl Marx Didn’t Pay His Servant

  1. We need to use discernment to determine whether a person’s behavior makes his ideas suspect. Perhaps a woman who is a doctor believes people shouldn’t smoke, but she herself smokes. She may be inconsistent or hypocritical, which will hurt her witness, but that doesn’t necessarily make her belief wrong, nor does it mean she isn’t a credible authority on the issue of health.

    It’s important to look at the ideas and what they teach in order to see if the persons life characterizes an abuse or inconsistency with the teachings or a conformity to the teachings. We see many people within Christianity living lives no one wants to emulate, and people think it’s because of flaws in our belief system. In reality though, they’re just abusing the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Homophobia and oppression are not logical outworkings of the biblical teachings. If Marx’s behavior is actually a logical outworking of his philosophy, then yes, it’s very suspect (which is what you’re arguing of course)!

    It’s a very good reminder that we can be right, but if our lives are completely abhorrent, hardly anyone will care. Christians need to keep this in mind.

    • Patrick K. Miller says:

      Kyle, great reply. Let me respond to your concerns:

      The point of this post is to say that no cut and dry dichotomy exists between a person’s ideas and a person’s character. You’re right to point out that the issue is complex, and often times people with poor characters say good things. Nonetheless, when you claim to invent an entire system for understanding human interactions, politics and economics like Marx did, you’re not offering a polite suggestion, but a total structural/sociological/psychological upheval. Marx personally believed himself to be an ideal leader, who lived out his own views wholly – he was shockingly self-righteous. Therefore his ideas and his character were vastly interconnecting.

      You point out that Christians are inconsistent because they are hypocritical and sinful… but that actually consistent with a Christian worldview. Christ taught that only he was perfect, and that only those who acknowledged their sins before God are justified. The apostle John said that anyone who says he is without sin is a liar. In other words, it’s built in to the Christian world view that all people, even Christians, struggle with sin. Until heaven the only inconsistent person would be a perfect Christian.

      The truth is that only Christians can live totally consistent lives with their “Ideology” (although the gospel is not an ideology, it’s a living, breathing, truth), because only Christians can confidently hope for something better to come without self-righteousness.

      Marxists look to a bright future, but the road there is painted with blood. Why? Because their eschatological fantasy was invented by a man with a depraved, ugly life himself.

      • You point out that Christians are inconsistent because they are hypocritical and sinful… but that actually consistent with a Christian worldview.

        We certainly are consistent in the way the Bible describes us as humans in the states we’re in. I’m saying many of us are inconsistent with how we ought to act based on biblical commands and exhortations. Thanks for the good reply!

  2. Tausend Augen says:

    I’m not sure if you are actually concerned or not, but seeing your headline on this blog (“seeking truth for all of life”) I thought I would point this out. There are two different things you are putting forward: 1) a description of the man Karl Marx, and 2) that his own life and personal conduct is related intimately to his theory.

    What I wanted to point out is that a lot of (2) depends upon you having the correct facts in (1), which unfortunately is not the case. These aren’t little errors here and there, rather it looks like these extravagant claims and bold assertions of untruths are intended to deceptively give an authoritative depiction of a historical figure as a substitute for any actual independent research. This is a problem when the substitute given consists of boldfaced lies.
    a) Marx was not an anti-semite, he was a Jew himself and fought for the emancipation of Jews
    b) Marx was not a racist, he wrote countless articles against slavery in the United States and for the equal treatment of all people regardless of race
    c) Marx did not even have nominal control over his organization, and he always deferred to workers.

    I could go on, especially re: “Elanor”, but again, not sure if you are really interested.

    • Patrick K. Miller says:

      Thanks for your thoughts and concerns. Obviously I do not intend to write anything dishonest or misleading. My source material comes from Paul Johnson’s biography, “Intellectuals.” I encourage you to check out his book. It’s earned high critical acclaim, so I have no reason to distrust the text. Moreover, many of my points (such as his anti-demotion and racism) come straight out of Marx’s writing. In regards to your fears about my ad hominem argument, I would direct you to the previous two comments. Thanks for your concerns.

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