“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
This rather famous proverb comes from the Bible. It has been used in the most diverse contexts as one can possibly imagine. Margaret Thatcher used it in a speech that later became dubbed her “Sermon on the Mound,” because she delivered it to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at Assembly Hall on “The Mound” in Edinburgh.
We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation. Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment—Thou shalt not covet—recognizes that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but love of money for its own sake.
The same text was used beginning immediately after the Revolution of 1917 by Vladimir Lenin. He turned this verse into a slogan that he had plastered throughout the cities, towns, and villages during the dire situation of the civil war and its food shortages. A dozen or so years later his successor Joseph Stalin would have it embedded in the 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union in Chapter 1.12 immediately prior to another famous proverb, this time from Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto,
“In the U.S.S.R. work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat.’ The principle applied in the U.S.S.R. is that of socialism: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.’”
The application of these two quotations could not be more starkly contrasted. Ideally, Lenin and Stalin used St. Paul as an “incentive” to teach the bourgeoisie that they could no longer suck the blood of the proletariat as they leeched off the poor working man. No. They would work, or they would starve. Of course, this also has to be read against the background of Siberian Gulag camps, firing squads, and other forms of “correction.” Threats of violence is hardly what Paul had in mind.
For a devout and religiously uneducated Marxist like Lenin, it seems strange to use the Scripture in a program designed to “abolish eternal truths … and all religion” as Marx and Engels put it in the Manifesto. But for Stalin, who most people do not realize trained 5 years at the Tiflis Spiritual Seminary in the Russian Orthodox Church and was known to be able to quote just about any passage of Scripture from memory, it makes perfect sense if, that is, you remember the temptation of Jesus and the mishandling of Scripture by the devil.
The point of using this verse was subversive and had nothing to do with the context of the original text. The subversion was to use the Scripture, which the Russian people held as holy, as a means to force them to participate in a program that would eradicate that same religion from the face of the U.S.S.R., rather than as Paul also says in the very passage to “encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work” because of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No, for Stalin it was work or starve. It was stoke the coals of the burgeoning Soviet Empire or die. And die they did, by the tens of millions under these new utopian laws of the Communists.
Contrast this to Thatcher, who in her speech immediately spoke of how we are not supposed to covet or love money for its own sake even though we are to use our talent to create wealth. While Paul was not speaking about making wealth, but instead was concerned with a heresy that was causing people to forsake work and “live on the rooftops waiting for Jesus,” the heart of her application was exactly right. It was individual and ethical.
She goes on to say that we have to use “the spiritual dimension” to decide “what one does with the wealth.” Responding to calls for help, investing in the future, supporting wonderful artists and craftsmen, all this glorifies God who wants these things to come from our hearts. “What is certain, however, is that any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.”
This then shows a stark contrast between classical communism and capitalism in terms of their use of Scripture and its desired end. The one uses the Scripture to destroy the Scripture and the God behind it. As Lenin said in a pamphlet he had made for his public-school brainwashing experiment,
“The transition from the Society which makes an end of capitalism to the society which is completely freed from all traces of class division and class struggle, will bring about the natural death of all religion and all superstition.” (The ABC of Communism § 92)
Communism’s end is not purely economic, but social and moral, refashioning civilization into its own godless image by any and all nefarious means necessary. This is a point that few understand when comparing “economic” systems. Communism (and its step-child socialism) is not purely economic. In fact, economics has very little to do with it at all.
Certainly, capitalism can also lead to terrible things, if the people under it are all godless and/or immoral. But capitalism is not inherently hostile to religion as communism is, because it is not inherently anti-religious. It is not a system that must have godlessness. It is a system of economics first. And while all capitalists insist that this system is a means to great advancements which can have added benefits of taking people out of poverty, delivering to them drinkable water, producing plentiful amounts of food, creating safe housing, causing goods to become cheaper, and so on, those with Christian convictions will insist that capitalism will only work correctly when the people have a changed heart and act as moral beings who use the Scripture as it was meant. Rather than harm religion, they will do everything in their power to strengthen it and the Gospel.
In other words, you couldn’t get two systems farther apart on essential matters of morality and religion if you tried.