A Critique of Lester De Koster’s: “All Ye That Labor”

All Ye That Labor: An Essay On Christianity, Communism, and the Problem of Evil.

(Eerdman’s Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1956, 128 pp.)

According to the publisher’s introduction this is the first of a series of books to be published under the general title Pathway Books. One of the aims of this undertaking is, in the words of the same introduction, “to display naked the idols of this age, and to urge upon modern man a thorough-going commitment to Christ and His gospel.” Among the numerous problems of this modernistic age the question:

what challenge does Communism present to Christianity? is certainly of timely interest. Mr. De Koster has undertaken the task of answering this question in the book which is the subject of this discussion.

To do full justice to Mr. De Koster’s work would require another book of at least the same length as his study. We shall limit ourselves to what we conceive to be the main points of his book. But first we should like to make a few general remarks.

The book is written in a clear and understandable prose. This we consider quite an achievement, in view of the difficult jargon and extravagant claims of Marx and his followers. Mr. De Koster’s style is rather lucid, with an occasional tendency towards absurdity in the interest of phrase-making and originality. The opening sentence of the preface is an excellent example. Such statements are made up of too much deliberate flattery, without a grain of sense, and for that reason are meaningless. When dealing with religion we ought not to indulge in a play of empty words or concepts.


Communism may be approached from many points of view, Mr. De Koster says. This raises the question: should a Reformed author write from the Reformed point of view, or should he not? The subtitle of Mr. De Koster’s book employs the concept “Christianity.” This seems to us a rather vague something. It means just about everything under the sun nowadays. It may even include a certain brand of communism, such as that propagated in the publications of the World Council of Churches. The publication “Man’s Disorder and God’s Design” (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1949 ) is a typical example of this type of “Christianity.” The ridicule which the author bestows upon the heads of some critics who “see a Communist conspiracy in every pronouncement of the National and World Councils” (p. 115) sounds rather unsophisticated.

Ordinary people may find it hard to discover anything good at all in Communism. But Mr. De Koster had more luck. Karl Marx probably should be credited with pioneering so-called Progressive Education in the Western World (p. 27). Observes Mr. De Koster, “If its enemies could but establish the connection, Progressive Education might be doomed soon enough.” Also according to Mr. De Koster, “acceptance of the view that ignorance permits evil to exist, accounts in some measure for the communist emphasis on Marxist theory, and the Russian determination to stamp out illiteracy (p. 19). It should be interesting to hear the opinion of the youth of Hungary about such a statement, after the revolt in that country. If there are readers who like to know more about this subject, we advise them to consult the educational works of the Russian professor, A. Pinkewitsch.

There is something strange and peculiar about Mr. De Koster’s book. One has to admit that he presents his readers with a very able exposition of Communism. But after reading it, one is inclined to ask: did the author meet the challenge head-on? Viewed in this way the study is not satisfactory at all.

Let us take the first chapter as an example. The “setting” which Mr. De Koster in this chapter provides for his subject is not only superficial, but also incorrect to a considerable degree. The author wants it understood that he is using the terms “Marxism” and “Communism” as synonymous. And he eliminates the word “Socialism” by saying that “it has been abused so much that, without certain qualifications, it is likely to denote little more than that another person’s views on economic matters differ from one’s own.” The facts of life do not seem to support this contention. Every major socialistic party carries the Marxian credo in its banner. Every true socialist will rise in anger if one should suggest that he is not a Marxist, or somebody who does not take Marxism at face value. And what in common parlance is known as Russia carries the official name Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics. Simple well-known facts like these should have been sufficient to prevent Mr. De Koster’s misapprehensions.

But there is more. There is a tendency in Mr. De Koster’s description of the times, the religious and philosophical currents of thought prior to Marx, that is typically American, but not correct. He looks at all of these phenomena through a pair of evolutionistic glasses. That is an inexcusable way of writing history. It is common practice in American scientific literature, and in so-called popular magazines. But the facts do not bear out this “Americanism.” Any European textbook, on whatever subject -theology, history, philosophy, etc.—can be summoned in proof. As to our subject, the only influential Communist who has been considerably influenced by Darwin is Kautsky. But eventually he came around to Marx’s materialism and mechanistic ideas. Concerning Marx and Engels, they have over and over again stressed the influence of Hegel and Fcuerbach’s materialism. It is quite difficult to understand why Mr. De Koster attributes so great an influence to Darwin’s views. Especially is this so in view of the fact that Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published eleven years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto.

Mr. De Koster states that a fruitful approach to his subject is to see Marxism as an explanation of, and proposed cure for, evil in society. To appreciate this method, let us take a look at the facts. Mr. DeKoster finds that Marx’s historical materialism is the basis of his theory. This is entirely correct. How did Marx arrive at this view of history? By way of pondering the problem of evil in society? Not at all! The problem of evil is only a secondary motif in Marx’s doctrine, at best. But the facts are that Marx had arrived at his philosophy of history before he even knew anything about economics.

Mehring, a first-rate authority in this matter, claims that the origin of Communism is the Bible criticism by the German philosophers Lessing and Reimarus, both living approximately one century before Marx. Of Bauer and Strauss, two followers of these gentlemen in Marx’s time, he says: “The criticism upon the gospels by Strauss and Bauer was the first battle of the great struggle for the liberation of the present day labor class. Upon this critique Marx and Engels built further.”

Neither Evolutionism, nor “the problem of evil” had anything to do with the birth of Communism. The real origin of Communism is Simply pure hatefulness against the Word of God, and consequently, against the Church. Anyone, who is slightly familiar with communistic party literature knows that one of the favorite themes of ridicule was the doctrine of the Trinity. How could 3 x 1 add up to I? The derogatory remarks about the Church are not suitable for reprint in this magazine. But we like to call attention to one more point. Did the author realize how deep-seated the hate is of every Communist and Socialist in regard to the diaconal work of the Church? These people do not hate this service of love on account of their concern with the problem of evil! Not at all. The real motif for this hate is the fact that this work of the Church contradicts squarely the theory of Marx. The diaconate has been and is the most successful weapon against the Communists, for it upsets the whole communistic applecart. Marx was never able to explain away the love of God for the poor.

Tn the following chapters De Koster dwells at length on the various aspects of communism. The whole credo passes the review: labor value, theory of crisis, accumulation of misery and capital, etc., etc. In the course of his discussion the author makes several interesting observations and critical remarks, which show that he is well versed in the doctrines of his opponents. But there is one theme that recurs frequently, and at the most unexpected moments. This is, in the words of the author, the “truth” of Marx’s theory of surplus value. To understand this “truth” we must explain brieRy Marx’s position first.

According to Marx, and many modern economists, the value of a commodity is under no circumstances greater than the value of the labor that went into its production. Human labor alone contributes to the value of a commodity. The value of a pound of sugar, e.g., is equal to the value of labor necessary to produce it. A capitalist entrepreneur who makes a profit on a pound of sugar, takes away part of the labor that has gone into the production of it. That profit Marx calls surplus value. The capitalist steals that away from the people who are instrumental in the creation of value. This is the so-called exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. In short, his argument runs as follows:

(1) the value of a commodity equals the amount of physical labor;

(2) this physical labor is equal in value to the labor needed to restore the loss of energy;

(3) the value of lost energy equals the labor value of the consumptive commodity necessary to restore the loss of energy;

(4) the value of this consumptive commodity must be equal in value to the original commodity in point one.

Fundamentally, value is a question of equating labor into terms of labor. Labor is converted matter, and energy is matter in motion. Matter is given in a certain quantity, and is not reproductive, i.e., there is no way to increase the amount of matter. To say that the value of a commodity would exceed the value of the amount of labor that went into its production, would therefore amount to saying that matter is in fact reproductive. This is Marx’s materialism stripped bare to its essentials.

It is outside of our province to discuss this aspect further. But it is sufficient to note, that even according to Marx’s own theory there would actually be a loss of matter, and thus of value. It is impossible to equalize items (1) and (2) in the scheme presented above. Neither Marx, nor any of the modern economists, have been able to explain this contradiction. The only admission that sometimes has been given, is that “Nature” (with a capital N) takes care of this deficit, and sometimes even produces a “surplus value.”

That man displays a certain initiative, takes certain risks, uses his common sense in employing his “labor power,” facts which Marx underrated according to De Koster, need not necessarily be attributed to the creative genius of labor, but are at best a judicial utilization of available energy. Mr. De Koster’s observation that the theory of labor value, which arose long before Marx as he states, embodies the universal recognition (we italicize) that labor is creative because it is a man’s gift of himself, certainly does not apply to Marx, and neither to the great majority of modern economists.

Mr. De Koster’s appreciation of the “truth” in Marx’s theory of labor value is not acceptable to a Christian economist. For this “truth” does not recognize Him, Who takes care of the “restitution of lost energy” and it eliminates the God who provided in the first place for the growth of that one pound of sugar in our example. A Christian economist ought to know by heart, before he starts his studies, the contents of Article 13 of our Confession. And he should know this: “What does it profit us to know that God has created, and by His providence still upholds, all things? That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future may have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move” (Lord’s Day X, Heidelberg Catechism ). It is more than a casual coincidence that Marx wrote his doctoral thesis about the “damnable error of the Epicureans” referred to in Article 13 of our confession.

Mr. De Koster’s appreciation of the “truth” in Marx’s theory of labor value has serious consequences. He properly observes that the times have changed since Marx. To insure a proper reward for “labor,” Marx proclaimed that the state had to be destroyed. In fact, he prophesied the “withering away” of the “capitalistic state” of his days. The law of the increasing misery of the proletariat would take revenge in due time. On the far horizon of time he saw a catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions, something un· known in Evolutionism, which event would herald the advent of the classless, stateless, communistic paradise.

Marx’s predictions have not been fulfilled. “Capital” and “Labor“ have learned to live together. And “Capital” seems to have learned the most. Observes Mr. De Koster: “the appeal which the theory of ‘surplus value’ has made lies in the common recognition that the rewards of labor must be fairly distributed amongst those who produce them” (p. 108). And thus it has come to pass that the state as an instrument in the hands of the “capitalist exploiters” has changed into a benevolent “Father of Labor.” The so·called Welfare State arose, and in its good providence “Labor” is assured of a continuous stream of “benefits,” from pre·natal care to post-mortem interment. The preservation of matter and energy is assured. The omnipotent state is now in charge of the distribution of a “fair reward for labor.” The diaconate has been replaced by the Social Security Administration of the government, in England, in Sweden, in pre-war Germany and Italy, in The Netherlands, to a certain extent in the communistic paradise itself, Russia. And America is apparently taking the same course. “Labor” is now spending the pool of wealth accumulated in the previous century by “Labor” as well as by the “capitalist exploiters.” If that pool had not been readily available, many a Welfare State could not have been started in the first place.

What does Mr. De Koster have to say about this development? Nothing! In his final chapter he thunders against the sins of the capitalists of a century ago. Sins, which are but petty errors of little significance, when compared to the horrible crimes of the Welfare State, with its manipulated currency (or legalized theft), its redistribution of private property, its unrealistic wage and price policy, its centralized management of the economy, its slave labor either inside a concentration camp or outside of it by means of compulsory union membership.

So far, more human beings have paid with their own blood for the communistic idol than the total population of Western Europe of the last century. Volleys of anger against sins of a capitalistic past are of little comfort to our generation which is witnessing these “benefits” of the Welfare State, or the Road to Serfdom as it has been called more aptly. Why did Mr. De Koster not discuss critically these results of the “truth” that Marx’s theory of labor supposedly contains?

We noticed that one of the aims of the Pathway Books is “to display naked the idols of this age, and to urge upon modern man a thoroughgoing commitment to Christ and His gospel.” Has the challenge of Communism been answered? Mr. De Koster depicted the idol very well. The pedestal upon which he placed this idol, its historical roots, he did not sufficiently recognize. The legitimate “offspring” of this idol in our times seems quite acceptable to him, especially if modified by the adjective “Christian.” But this cross-breed is even worse than the original Marxian parent. Our final conclusion must therefore be: this book does not urge upon modem man a thorough-going commitment to Christ! It seems to us inevitable that after reading this book, his conclusion will be: “Why bother, if after all Marx is right in the first place?”