Marxism and Religion

Marxism and religion"Early on, humans have sought an imaginary communion with a non-material spirit world where — it is believed — a part of me will live on. This was indeed one of the most powerful and enduring messages of Christianity: 'I can live after death'. The problem is that the life that is led by most men and women in present-day society is so hard, so intolerable, or at least so meaningless, that the idea of a life after death seems the only way to invest it with any meaning." — From Marxism and Religion

“Religion is the opium of the masses” is one of Marx’s most quoted phrases. However, the full quote is almost always neglected, which explains the position of Marxism far more adequately. Marx explains that religion fills the soulless void found in class society, and, in a sense, even indicates the need to protest against the injustice of this world. However, by seeking mystical and otherworldly explanations and solutions to the injustices of the real world, it plays the key ideological role in maintaining class society.

Marxism is about achieving the full realisation of humanity’s powers, the unfolding of our nature without diversion into obscurantist fetishism, be that the fetish for money or for religious symbols. But we can only cast aside these illusions when we directly control our fate, and to do that we need to put the productive forces of society under social control. In other words, we need socialism and a revolution. Religion cannot be overcome by recourse to pure, rational arguments; we must instead attack its social foundation.

Marxists are in favour of religious freedom and do not set up barriers to religious workers joining in the struggle for socialism. However, we are irreconcilable atheists and materialists in our own world outlook, and we are in favour of the radical separation between religion and the state.

In the first part of this chapter Lal Khan looks at the role played by religion and fundamentalism in the subcontinent. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmir was introduced by both the Pakistani and the Indian states to divide and weaken the movement of workers and students. In the second part he looks at the national question in Kashmir, and the position of the Marxists in relation to the struggle for national liberation in Kashmir.

To justify their war in Iraq the imperialists have found so-called erudite and intelligent professors to come up with the idea of the  "The Clash of Civilizations". One of these is Francis Fukuyama and the other is Samuel P. Huntington. They have both worked in the US Foreign Office. Lal Khan's looks into their arguments and presents a class-based critique, a Marxist response.

On the eve of the war in Iraq, George W. Bush talked about a "crusade". He was obviously quite pleased with himself for having thought of such a catchy phrase. But he was quickly silenced by his advisers, who pointed out to him that the word "crusade" has very unfortunate associations for the Moslem world.

We have received quite a few e-mails from our subscribers asking about the attitude of Marxists to religion, relating not only to Marxism and Christianity, but also to Islam. For example, we have received several communications from sympathetic people who support liberation theology, in the Philippines. We are also in contact with groups who describe themselves as Islamic Marxists. This is clearly an interesting and important question, which deserves serious treatment. As an initial contribution, we are publishing an article by Alan Woods which is actually based on his replies to such letters.

In this post cold war epoch one of the most significant phenomena which has come to the fore is Islamic fundamentalism. But what is Islamic fundamentalism and what are its real prospects? Although it is not a new phenomenon, in recent times it has attained a vicious and virulent character. Modern fundamentalism in reality is a reactionary culmination of the trends of Islamic revivalism in an epoch of modern world economy and politics.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in one of the most turbulent and disturbed periods in human history. Instead of being the precursor of "The end of history," capitalism is enmeshed in a crisis yet unforeseen. There is not a single region of the planet which is not engulfed in social, economic or political crisis. Capitalism on a world scale has proved to be incapable of resolving this crisis, and develop society further.As a reaction to these crises new, and some not so new, phenomenon have emerged on the political horizons of most countries. In most of the "Third world," "Islamic" countries there is the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. This article written in Octobre


"No book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy of the destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organised, planned and conscious way. Does this mean that educational books against religion are harmful or unnecessary? No, it means that Social-Democracy’s atheist propaganda must be subordinated to its basic task—the development of the class struggle of the exploited masses against the exploiters."

Early Christianity arose at a time of upheaval and change associated with the crisis of slave society. The rise of Christianity is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in history. Kautsky's Foundations of Christianity deserves a far wider audience than it has had. The main conclusions have been strikingly confirmed by the latest discoveries of archaeology and in particular the Dead Sea Scrolls. As such, Kautsky’s book remains a masterpiece of the method of historical materialism.

"Those who toil are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward. But those who live by the labour of others are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven." (Lenin)

"Here is the answer to all the attacks of the clergy: the Social-Democracy in no way fights against religious beliefs. On the contrary, it demands complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion. But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation." (Luxemburg)

"A short, coherent account of our relation to the Hegelian philosophy, of how we proceeded, as well as of how we separated, from it, appeared to me to be required more and more. Equally, a full acknowledgement of the influence which Feuerbach, more than any other post-Hegelian philosopher, had upon us during our period of storm and stress, appeared to me to be an undischarged debt of honor. I therefore willingly seized the opportunity when the editors of Neue Zeit asked me for a critical review of Starcke’s book on Feuerbach." (Engels)

Karl Marx understood very well the role of religion. He is often quoted as saying that religion is the “opium of the people”. But he said a lot more than that, and it was in this work that he shows a deep understanding of why people are religious. He explains that, to ask them to give up on their religious illusions, this means removing the conditions that require that illusion.