As regular readers will know; I am not infrequently moved to write succinct rebuttals to what are silly, or simply outright stupid, claims. One such claim is that Karl Marx was a ‘practising Satanist’; and since Marx was jewish, I feel it beholden on me to actually write a response to this nonsensical argument.
Fortunately the source of this claim as anything other than a rhetorical point (a lot of people have asserted that Marx was satanic, which is rather different to arguing he was an actual Satanist) (1) is one individual (who is also, as it happens, jewish): Pastor Richard Wurmbrand.
Wurmbrand, who was brutally tortured by the disproportionately Romanian communist police for being a ‘counter-revolutionary’ in the 1950s, (2) claimed to have studied Marx’s writings in detail and to have discovered evidence that Marx was in fact a ‘practising Satanist’, which he outlined in his booklet ‘Marx & Satan’ (better known as ‘Was Karl Marx a Satanist?’ )
As is perhaps predictable Wurmbrand’s work is only a hundred pages (in which the text is not exactly tightly printed) and is largely an attempted exercise in quote-mining. (3)
Also only about half of the text is actually about Marx and the other bits are devoted to somewhat pedestrian attacks on Marxism by quotation (a-la Wurmbrand’s fellow jewish convert Fred Schwartz’s prattle). We can see this by simply pointing out that Wurmbrand spends most of his ‘argument’ quoting various excerpts from Marx himself and occasionally Engels, rather than focusing on their actual thought.
He instead focuses on Marx’s early poetry (in which, to be fair, Marx does mention Satanism/Luciferianism, although only in an allegorical sense of rejecting the world) (4) and his famous - to scholars of Marx and Engels - back and forth with Engels on just about every subject known to man.
For example Wurmbrand quotes Marx as saying that his own writings were ‘shit’ and ‘swinish books’ and concludes that Marx is deliberately giving his readers ‘filth’, which to Wurmbrand’s fertile imagination simply equates ‘Satanist’. (5) However, this, even to the most pedestrian of minds, is taking Marx a bit literally, as Marx had a rather bad (and well-known) habit of calling his own studies ‘shit’.
For example, when writing to Engels about his studies in economics, he declared that he would ‘soon be done with the economic shit’. (6)
Essentially Marx here is talking out of his own dissatisfaction with his lot in life and the perennial depression it seems to have brought him that he wasn’t lauded everywhere (except by Engels) as a kind of super-genius and given every academic and economic award. We can see this in Marx’s own constant whining to Engels and his insipid one-upmanship against other intellectuals, or those who he believed had wronged him in some way, of which his ‘Herr Vogt’ and ‘The Poverty of Philosophy’ are but the nastier and more lengthy examples.
Marx was a Left Hegelian par extraordinaire and like his fellow Left Hegelians (such as Arnold Ruge, Mikhail Bakunin, Max Stirner and Moses Hess) he had a tendency to what has been rightly referred to as ‘hyper-intellectualism’, (7) but with this level of intellectual discourse similarly inflated intellectual egos were created. This got even worse when the Prussian government began cracking down on dissident Left Hegelian intellectuals in academic positions like Marx’s one-time intellectual idols: Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer.
The result of this crackdown was the removal of the Left Hegelians from positions of influence and also the de-legitimisation of their intellectual discourse to the extent that the Left Hegelians were confined to publishing their material in their own barely-read and extremely verbose journal called the ‘Deutsche-Franzosische Jahrbucher’ in Paris.
This left a lot of very bruised intellectual egos among the Young Hegelians and many of the former members went right off the proverbial rails with Max Stirner dying young, Mikhail Bakunin wandering around Europe whoring and drinking while spouting off his theories, Bruno Bauer scribbling away in a remote cottage, Moses Hess turning to racially-based Labour Zionism and so forth.
Marx was not dissimilar in his own response to this as he spent the next few decades trying to demonstrate that he really was the earth-shattering genius that he ardently believed himself to be (although he barely produced any actual work but did much reading and made a great many excuses as to why he couldn’t write up his studies).
This is the origin of his comments that his work was ‘shit’ and ‘swinish’ - which is also incidentally somewhat related to his rather scatological sense of humour - in that he wanted to make a complete study of everything and as such he never finished and the fact that he never finished because he felt he could never finish it properly meant that he regarded his work as ‘shit’ .
Precisely because his work was ‘shit’, because it was always unfinished and could be perfected that little bit more in his view and also because his perfectionism (as well as his perennial laziness) kept him from actually publishing much of any note at the time; much of the work attributed to Marx was either edited or actually written by Engels.
Another literalist assertion in a similar vein from Wurmbrand in relation to Marx is in his letter to his father of November 10 1837, which states that:
‘A curtain has fallen. My holy of holies was rent asunder and new gods had to be installed.’ (8)
To which Marx’s father inquires (quite rightly) what Marx precisely means and uses the figurative question of whether a demon has alienated Marx’s heart from better feelings. (9) Wurmbrand typically interprets Marx’s fathers inquiry as a literal statement rather than being an obviously figurative statement that you have inner doubts or contradictions. Thus you are, as the saying goes, dealing with your demons (much as Marx was).
Clearly Marx’s father wasn’t suggesting that his son had been possessed by actual demons or wanted to worship the devil, but yet Wurmbrand laughably insists this must be so. In a fairly desperate attempt to buttress his case he quotes Marx’s poem ‘On Hegel’, wherein Marx tells us his thoughts have been rendered all asunder by the discovery of Hegel’s work (i.e. ‘all mixed up’ aka racked with doubt and trying to find a new path) and an epigram where he announces Hegel is his new god and that he clothes himself in (figurative) darkness like his new master (Hegel).
This Wurmbrand puts alongside a Marx poem which states that his soul that was once dedicated to God is now among the chosen ones heading straight to hell. (10)
Once again this is applying literalism where none is warranted, as Marx is quite clearly being figurative again in that he is suggesting that he has slipped from what Evangelical Protestants – of which religious congregation Marx was technically a member - called ‘the narrow path’ (i.e. he going to heaven) at the time and is now on ‘the broad path’ (i.e. he is going to hell). He has decided against convention and since he cannot believe in God. He has to find a new god, which he has discovered in the ‘final philosophy’ of Hegel, which promised to give assiduous students all the answers to the mysteries of life and human affairs.
Marx’s comments to his father is his informing him that his son has had his faith in the existence of a deity shattered by encountered the philosophy of Hegel and more particularly the ideas of the Young Hegelians. The essence of Marx’s ideas on this point is stated quite succinctly in the classic Left Hegelian critique of Christianity: Ludwig Feuerbach’s ‘The Essence of Christianity’ .
Wurmbrand claims that no biographer/historian of Marx has explained these words, which is very simply an outright lie, as some of the words he cites are some of the most commonly cited of all Marx’s early life! (11)
Putting another nail in the coffin is that Wurmbrand simply doesn’t cite the fact that Marx’s father frequently referred to his son’s ‘demons’ in a figurative context to represent his own worries about him. (12) In particular Marx’s father was rather distressed about Marx’s selfishness and recklessness with money and the reputations of others (particularly those of the fairer sex). (13)
Wurmbrand’s desperation, and lack of an argument, is made all the more obvious when he deliberately misquotes Riis’ claim that he met Helene Demuth (Jenny von Westphalen’s maid and the occasional object of Marx’s amorous attentions when his wife was out of sorts with him) in the early twentieth century in London and that she told him that Marx believed in God.
Wurmbrand states as follows:
'An American, Commander Sergius Riis, had been a disciple of Marx. Grieved by the news of his death, he went to London to visit the house in which the admired teacher had lived. The family has moved. The only one whom he could find to interview was Marx’s former housemaid Helene Demuth. She said these amazing words about him:
‘He was a God-fearing man. When very sick, he prayed alone in his room before a row of lighted candles, tying a sort of tape measure around his forehead.’
This suggests phylacteries, implements worn by Orthodox Jews during their morning prayers. But Marx had been baptised in the Christian religion, had never practised Judaism, and later became a fighter against God. He wrote books against religion and brought up all his children as atheists. What was this ceremony which an ignorant maid considered an occasion of prayer? Jews, saying their prayers with phylacteries on their foreheads, don’t usually have a row of candles before them. Could this have been some kind of magic practice?’ (14)
Now Wurmbrand has here deliberately altered what Riis recorded Demuth as saying.
Riis’ book actually states the following:
‘Another offering of a shilling, I queried the Demuth woman regarding Marx’ religious inclinations. She said: “'e was a God-fearing man.”
I gathered that Marx had often gone on Saturdays to a Jewish temple in [the] Maidenhead section of London. Sometimes, when his ailment had bothered him too severely (using the exact words of the Demuth woman), “he prayed alone in his room, before a row of lit candles, tying a sort of tape measure around his forehead.”’ (15)
Now when we compare the quotation given by Wurmbrand and the actual side-by-side we can see that Wurmbrand is deliberately misleading his reader about what Riis quoted Helene Demuth as actually saying.
Yes: he quotes her words, but he misses the vital clarification about what Riis states she was talking about.
In his desperation to argue that Marx was a Satanist; Wurmbrand simply removes the fact that Riis is putting this ‘praying in front of candles with phylacteries’ in the context of Demuth’s suggestion that Marx attended a synagogue in Maidenhead. This allows Wurmbrand to claim that Demuth isn’t suggesting that Marx was an adherent of Judaism, but rather could be ‘practising magic’ and by dint of this be a Satanist.
That Wurmbrand is deliberately suppressing the fact that Demuth, according to Riis, meant that Marx was a practicing jew can also be seen a few pages earlier when he tells us that:
'Far from being defeated in my self-appointed mission of paying homage to Marx, I searched out his last resting place. I found it in the suburbs of London, on a bleak hill at Highgate. No one around had ever heard of Marx. Yet, among other tombstones in the cemetery, I found one moss-grown, cracked stone slab lying flat on the ground. The epitaph read: Karl Marx: 1818-1883. Above the name, hardly visible, was a mutilated six-pointed Star of David, chiselled into the stone slab. It was apparent that someone had tried to erase the impression of the star.
There were Stars of David on other tombstones nearby.’ (16)
This leaves the reader of Riis’ work in little doubt that Riis’ meaning of the text that Wurmbrand quotes is to argue that Marx as a practicing jew and not imply by any means that Marx was a Satanist as Wurmbrand tries to argue.
I haved addressed Riis’ claim to have met Helene Demuth in a separate article, (17) but for our purposes it is enough to note that Wurmbrand has intentionally misrepresented Riis here. There is simply no other explanation, because Wurmbrand systematically suppresses the parts of Riis’ argumentation that directly contradicts his own and therefore misleads his readers.
That Wurmbrand has done this confirms the thrust of my argument here in relation to Marx’s religious beliefs in that Marx did not ‘worship Satan’ and was not interested in the occult; (18) but in order to make the case that he did, Wurmbrand misrepresents Marx by quoting him very selectively, fails to account for other explanations/interpretations and always interprets anything that he believes supports his case in a fashion that only allows of two conclusions: either an individual worships a known religion (possibly exclusively Christianity although Wurmbrand isn’t exactly clear on this point) or they are a Satanist.
Essentially Wurmbrand approaches Marx with a conclusion reached a priori and then tries to find evidence to prove that conclusion. This is why Wurmbrand’s ‘Marx & Satan’ reads like it was written by a schizophrenic at times and also why the author seems so intent on ‘proving’ his point even when the ‘evidence’ he uses tends to obviously mean something else other than the spin he tries to put on it.
If we were feeling generous we could attribute Wurmbrand’s self-appointed mission to claim ‘Marx was a Satanist’ as probably originating from his time in communist custody in Romania. That experience certainly gave Wurmbrand a considerable amount of drive and sense of mission, but it also appears to have thrown out any attempt on his part to rationally approach Marxism and its popularly-believed originator, Karl Marx. (19)
Instead Wurmbrand seems to have directly associated Marx with the system that used him as their central cultic figure that probably did torture him and cause him all sorts of suffering and pain. Thus because Wurmbrand associated the communist system with being anti-Christian and thus satanic: he believed that the progenitor of this system (Marx) must have himself been a Satanist in order to design and inspire so satanic a system of government.
If we were feeling less generous we could argue that Wurmbrand - a jewish convert to Christianity - who, like his fellow ‘Jewish Christian’ Fred Schwartz, (20) was out to con non-jews and make sensationalist claims; such as is the bread and butter of ‘Marx & Satan’. In many ways ‘Marx & Satan’ is the book that Wurmbrand is best-known for and it certainly served its purposes as it was a Christian best seller being issued in a new edition at least eight times (with even more numerous reprints) in Wurmbrand’s lifetime as far as I can ascertain.
Was Wurmbrand simply a mentally-disturbed jewish survivor of (usually jewish-run) communist gulags in Romania or a jewish con-man on the make?
In all honesty it is probably a mix of both.
- Francis Wheen, 1999, ‘Karl Marx’ , 1st Edition, Fourth Estate: London, p. 3
- For more information see Richard Wurmbrand, 1998, ‘Tortured for Christ’ , 2nd Edition, Living Sacrifice: Bartlesville; Richard Wurmbrand, 1969, ‘In God’s Underground’ , 1st Edition, Hodder & Stoughton: London and Richard Wurmbrand, 1991, ‘From Torture to Triumph’ , 1st Edition, Monarch: Oxford
- Richard Wurmbrand, 1979, ‘Was Karl Marx a Satanist?’ , 5th Edition, Diane: Glendale
- Robert Payne, 1968, ‘Marx: A Biography’ , 1st Edition, W. H. Allen: London, pp. 62-65
- Richard Wurmbrand, 1986, ‘Marx & Satan’ , 6th Edition, Crossway: Wheaton, p. 19; A rather good summary of Wurmbrand’s ‘argument’ can be found in Deirdre Manifold’s otherwise succinct and fairly accurate summary of (Western) academic research and opinion on Marx up the mid-1980s. See Deirdre Manifold, 1985, ‘Karl Marx: True or False Prophet’ , 1st Edition, Firinne: Galway
- Tristram Hunt, 2009, ‘Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels’ , 1st Edition, Henry Holt: New York, p. 233
- Cf. David McLellan, 1969, ‘The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx’ , 1st Edition, MacMillan: London
- Wurmbrand, ‘Marx & Satan’ , Op. Cit., p. 20
- Ibid, pp. 21
- Ibid, pp. 21-22
- See; for example, the summation by Payne, Op. Cit., pp. 46-55
- Franz Mehring, 1936, ‘Karl Marx: The Story of his Life’ , 1st Edition, Allen and Unwin: London, p. 12
- Ibid, pp. 10-12; Payne, Op. Cit, pp. 44-47
- Wurmbrand, ‘Marx & Satan’ , Op. Cit., pp. 45-46
- Sergius Riis, 1962, ’ Karl Marx: Master of Fraud’ , 1st Edition, Robert Speller: New York, p. 11
- Ibid, p. 8
- For a good recent discussion of Marx’s views on religion in their political and cultural context see Deborah Lavin, 2011, ‘Bradlaugh contra Marx: Radicalism versus Socialism in the First International’ , No. 28, Socialist History Society Occasional Publications: London
- This author is of the academic school of thought that argues that Marx, in spite of his name being attached to it, did not create ‘Marxism’ but rather Engels did and promoted Marx as a kind of mythic saint after he had died. This is incidentally borne out by looking at whom Marxists, historic and contemporary, tend to cite: Engels not Marx. For interested parties I would suggest reading Manfred Steger, Terrell Carver (Eds.), 1999, ‘Engels After Marx’, 1st Edition, Pennsylvania State University Press: Pennsylvania
- On Schwartz see the following article: http://www.semiticcontroversies.blogspot.com/2012/03/dr-fred-schwarz-kosher-anti-communism.html