True Socialism is Rooted in Christianity – Fr. Wilhelm Hohoff (1908)

[This excerpt is translated from the 1908 book ‘Der Bedeutung der Marx’schen Werttheorie’ (The Significance of Marx’s Value Theory) by Wilhelm Hohoff, a Catholic priest and Marx scholar. This extract is according to text that was reprinted in ‘Katholizismus und Sozialismus in Deutschland im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert’ in 1992, edited by Wolfgang Ockenfels. Wilhelm Hohoff had a friendship of over thirty years with Karl Kautsky, the principal theoretician of international socialism (jokingly referred to as the Pope of Marxism), who had praised his earlier work on value theory, saying that he knew few who so clearly understood Marx’s thought. Even so, there are some unspoken contradictions. Whilst Hohoff was praised by the Communist Party as being a ‘communist in priest’s clothing’ who understood Christianity like communists, after the German Revolution, he expressed public support for Majority Social Democracy, the governmental party emerging from the pro-war faction in the SPD. Much hinges on what it means to be ‘revolutionary in the bad sense of the word’.]

(…) In brief, today this so-called labour theory of value, or Ricardo-Marxian value theory, is rejected and fought against by nearly all professional economists, not so much for its own sake, but rather because from it and from and out of it the teaching of surplus-value emerges. The economic dilettantes on the Catholic side, those who polemicise against the Marxian analysis of value, are essentially only adopting the arguments of liberal bourgeois economists. On our side, we have already often explained elsewhere that we are convinced of the rectitude of Marxian value and surplus-value theory with the most comprehensive evidence and that, of course, we don’t accept all of the alleged ‘conclusions’ socialist agitators draw from it. We believe we have sufficiently proven our position, even for those who are impartial.

Capital is money-hatching money, value that produces surplus value. This all is ‘illogical’ and as irrational as slavery. Money can’t hatch money, that is against reason and against the nature of things. This is said by Aristotle, the Church Fathers, and the entirety of the scholastics.

Nothing is more certain, more natural and more rational that all money, all capital is ‘productive’, bears fruit, produces surplus value. This is what is taught to us by the dominant economic discipline, bourgeois economics.

Who is right? Who solves the riddle? How do you explain this contradiction?

It is the great scientific achievement of Karl Marx to have given the correct answer to this question. ‘The secret of the self-expansion of capital resolves itself into having the disposal of a definite quantity of other people’s unpaid labour.’ (…)

Marx has proven this, as rigorously and evidently as anything can be proven, for anyone who is really concerned with the truth and not with something else.

Now the matter is very simple: the profit of capital, like the word profit implies, is spoils, lucre. But where there is profit on one side, there is loss and injury on the other. Ubi lucrum, ibi damnum. ‘If one does not lose, the other cannot profit; the one who profits rejoices, the one who loses is sorrowful’ says Saint Augustine. The part that bears the suffering are the workers. (…)

Materialism and atheism are not essential to socialism. Modern lack of faith and hatred of religion are not a socialist invention and not a socialist speciality. Schäffle has already highlighted this in his main work and elsewhere.

The Marxian criticism of capitalism is, in essence, accurate and true. Whoever fails to recognise this cradles themselves in illusions, they fail to recognise the seriousness of the situation, they fail to recognise the root causes of social poverty, they fail to recognise the magnitude and difficulty of the social disease, they make a wrong diagnosis and hence make a suitable and successful course of treatment impossible.

To fail to recognise the truth and to deny it — and to abuse the truth is both disastrous and reprehensible. (…)

Socialism in itself is a high, sublime ideal; in its concrete historical manifestation, it is a sharp rod, a scourge of God for modern non-Christian society. No matter how godlessly it behaves today, it will, for better or worse, teach the world again to obey the commandments of God and His holy church. In the heaven-storming titans, who imagine that they are dethroning God in delirious blindness, the phrase of Eduard von Hartmanns will come true, the ‘fools of Providence’.

Socialism is not ‘evil’, it is not ‘destruction’, it is not in itself and absolutely not ‘condemned’ by the Syllabus. Just as little as the Church absolutely condemns ‘culture and civilisation’, but rather only and exclusively that which is anti-Christian, it does not absolutely condemn socialism, but rather only and exclusively that which is atheist, anti-Christian and revolutionary in the bad sense of the word. There is a true, rightful, Christian culture just as there is a true, rightful Christian socialism. Modern culture, in so far as it justly earns the name, does not stand in contradiction and opposition to Christianity, but rather proceeds from it. Socialism, in so far as it is rightful and contains the truth, is equally rooted in Christianity and proceeds from it. The true ideals of both can only now find their realisation through Christianity, from which they emerge in the final analysis. But unfortunately, the blindness, ignorance and prejudice on either side are so great that for the time being at least, there is apparently no hope of peaceful understanding and reconciliation but a fight to the end! (…)

[Translated by R. V.]