Marxism and Religion

Marxism and religionMarx explained that “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” The second half of this statement is the most quoted, but together they show Marx’s all-sided understanding. Marx says the reason why many people hold religious ideas is due to the oppression and exploitation they are subjected to. Lacking any material explanation for this, many look to mystical ideas as a form of comfort. However, this also means religious ideas can play a useful ideological role for the ruling class. Workers can be told not to worry about their position in society today. Instead, if they just ‘turn the other cheek’, they will be rewarded in the afterlife.

While religion can play a reactionary role, Marxists do not claim it can be defeated purely through argumentation. To rid society of religion, the material conditions for religion must be removed. Therefore, only when we have a democratically and rationally planned economy, based on the needs of us all, rather than the profit of a few, will we begin to see the withering away of religious ideas. So, Marxists are in favour of religious freedom, but argue people will decide for themselves to abandon religion in a socialist society.

Marxists do not prevent religious workers joining the fight for socialism, but they do not have a neutral position on religion within the revolutionary organisation. As Lenin said, “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.” A Marxist organisation would be rudderless without the guide of the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism. Religious workers wanting to join a Marxist organisation must therefore be convinced by the ideas of materialist dialectics, which are the best guide and tool for understanding and thus changing society. 

Christianity has played a pivotal role in shaping the modern world and continues to hold considerable influence over many people's lives and even many countries' governments. Understanding the roots of such a phenomenon, dating back 2000 years, provides great practical significance when it comes to understanding the development of religion and society in general.

Alan Woods talks at the IMT Winter School in Berlin on the topic of 'Marxism and Religion'. Alan explains the materialist conception of the world, integral to the theory of Marxism, and contrasts it to the idealist perspective that gives rise to religion. Alan explains the nature of religion as a means of consoling the oppressed with a life after death.

With Christmas just around the corner we present the final meeting of the ULU Marxist Society, which celebrated the end of a successful first term of meetings on December 4th by hosting a debate on Marxism and Religion. Under the heading Christianity - Capitalist or Communist? Dr Peter Hatton, Methodist Minister, debated Fred Weston, co-editor of In Defence of Marxism and leading member of the International Marxist Tendency.

The present Pope, Ratzinger or Benedict XVI as he has chosen to call himself, far from being a “transitional” Pope is not only following in the footsteps of John Paul II, he is putting his foot on the accelerator of Christian fundamentalism. While talking of reconciliation he promotes conflict, backs reactionary politicians of the Bush type and condemns anyone who wants to really change the material conditions of millions of poor and working class people.

Alan Woods talks to the ULU Marxist Society on the topic of 'Marxism and Religion'. Alan explains the materialist conception of the world, integral to the theory of Marxism, and contrasts it to the idealist perspective that gives rise to religion. Alan explains the nature of religion as a means of consoling the oppressed with a life after death, the tendency of the church to break down along class lines, as well as the trade union credentials of God.

This article written in 1945 analyses the relationship between the Soviet state and the Russian Orthodox Church. There was a clear dividing line between Lenin’s approach to this question and the zig-zag policy later adopted by Stalin. First published in Workers International News, October 1945.

On this Easter Monday we are republishing an article by Rob Sewell in which he analyses the real origins of the early Christians. Quoting at length from Kautsky's The Foundations of Christianity he reveals the real nature of early Christianity and how it emerged as a movement of the oppressed in ancient Roman society, an early form of Communism.

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

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"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.