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Marxism and religion

Marxism and religion
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Lenin, writing on Socialism and Religion, agreed with Marx that "Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze, in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man." As far as Lenin was concerned, it was quite understandable why the oppressed turn to religion: "Impotence of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters .. inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life after death "

It seemed equally clear to Lenin why the capitalists turned to religion: [They] "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."

Like Engels and Marx, Lenin believed that religion was an historical phenomenon, tied to the oppressive structures of human history such as feudalism and capitalism. Just as they believed that the state, as we know it today, would no longer be needed and would "wither away" after the world had turned completely to socialism, so too they believed that religion would wither away when there was no longer a need for it. In Lenin's words, "the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society."

Lenin cites Marx and Engels that due to the fact that religion has deep roots in capitalist oppression, it will not disappear until the people completely overcome their oppression: He writes in The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion that "No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy or the blind 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."

Marx, Engels and Lenin all agreed that there should be complete separation of church and state and that the state should never make laws about religious belief, either to support one religion or to ban another. All three were opposed to arguments that religion should be banned under socialism. Lenin agreed with Engels when he wrote in The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion: "Engels frequently condemned the efforts of people who desired to be "more left" or "more revolutionary" than the Social-Democrats to introduce into the programme of the workers' party an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion. Commenting in 1874 on the famous manifesto of the Blanquist fugitive Communards who were living in exile in London, Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out."

While some socialists wanted to exclude workers who were religious from the revolutionary party, Lenin believed they should be welcomed without prejudice: "We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offense to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it." In fact, Lenin was not even opposed to recruiting priests into the revolutionary party. For example, he defended the revolutionary priest Father Gapon against those who claimed he was an agent.

A more sympathetic view of religion and revolution is expressed by Fidel Castro. Fidel's respect for religion is echoed by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi whose messages of nonviolence open a new way to revolutionary change. Although the dialogue of religion and revolution continues as we enter the 21st Century, the contradictions seem to be increasing at the same time since the capitalist culture of war is more and more cloaked in the robes of fundamentalist Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious crusades.

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game administrator Jun. 13 2019,18:22
Readers' comments are invited on this topic.
Red-Metta October 1, 2009
Dear Members

I was reading with interest, the site, regarding religion.  I then looked-up 'Lenin & Religion', and after reading yet another excellent article, was guided to this forum.  Infact, I had something of an ephinany as to what Lenin (and therefore Marx) viewed religion as - namely a response to oppression by the powerless masses!

Making money is not a new phenomenon, but the history of religion pre-dates the modern ideology of 'capitalism'.  The religious urge appears as old as humanity itself.  I am wondering whether the religious impulse at its base, is inherent in the human genetic code?  This might mean that certain conditions in the physical world would trigger this archetype to manifest, whilst other conditions might not cause it to manifest.

However, my speculation seems to suggest that even if physical conditions (such as living in a Socialist Society) did not trigger the deployment of the psychological religious archetypal tendency, would it be true to say that the 'potential' for the religious mind-set would remain, together with the possibility of a regression back into religiousity?  This might not mean a full-blown re-adoption of old style religion, as these practices might well die-out during Socialist Education, but rather the bear appreciation, or sense of feeling that there is 'something' beyond what the senses convey.  Such a response could be triggered by a beautiful painting, or a butterfly landing on a flower, for instance.

Lenin said that religion is a private matter and that the state should not interfere.  He also said that the state should openly confront the 'opiate of the masses'.  I suspect the latter is about the social and political structures gained by religion throughout history, and their dismantlement after Revolution.  There will be no state sponsored opiate, so to speak.  But on the personal level, ordinary people will be allowed to pursue their religion, with the hope (to quote Lenin), that they will eventually abandon it, when confronted with the obvious superiority of Socialism.

What happens if religion is not abandoned?  Or that some Socialists refer to their Socialism in the same bigoted terms usually reserved for religious extremists?  The other extreme is China, where it destroyed its religions and traditions, only to re-invent for Capitalist exploitation many years after the Revolution of 1949.  

Your comments are welcomed.

Thank you
Red-Metta October 2, 2009,08:08
This is the extract that I found inspiring.  Lenin is correct - religion should be a private matter, with no state interference, or state support.  Mao Zedong attacked religion in China and caused social chaos and a moral vacuum that has note been filled with Socialist science, but rather the greed inspired rhetoric of the Capitalist mind-set.  Religion, when deprived of state support, should not be attacked by the State.  If religion is true, then it will mirror and support the peaceful evolution of the Socialist program.  

Lenin & Religion.
Religion must be declared a private affair. In these words socialists usually express their attitude towards religion. But the meaning of these words should be accurately defined to prevent any misunderstanding. We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned. Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority. Everyone must be absolutely free to profess any religion he pleases, or no religion whatever, i.e., to be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule. Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizenís religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies. These should become absolutely free associations of like-minded citizens, associations independent of the state. Only the complete fulfilment of these demands can put an end to the shameful and accursed past when the church lived in feudal dependence on the state, and Russian citizens lived in feudal dependence on the established church, when medieval, inquisitorial laws (to this day remaining in our criminal codes and on our statute-books) were in existence and were applied, persecuting men for their belief or disbelief, violating menís consciences, and linking cosy government   jobs and government-derived incomes with the dispensation of this or that dope by the established church. Complete separation of Church and State is what the socialist proletariat demands of the modern state and the modern church.
Red-Metta October 2, 2009,08:08
As a Buddhist myself, I was very interested to read the Dalai Lama say;
'Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. (...) The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.'

'Don't believe that socialism is dead! This is just the materialist propaganda of neo-conservative diehard capitalists. Real socialism has never been tried on a large scale.

Socialism is the perspective and orientation that takes the good of society as a whole as central, rather than one's personal, individualistic good as all important. Thus, socialism is the opposite of the individualism with which we are brainwashed today.

For engaged buddhists, socialism must be rooted in and guided by Dhamma. Thus, we speak of "Dhammic Socialism." We are not talking abut the materialist monstrosities of centralized, dictatorial Stalinism. Dhammic

Socialism is not slavish conformism, for it respects and nurtures individuals. However, the individual's purpose in life is not merely its own pleasure or success. In Dhammic Socialism, the individual's purpose and meaning is found beyond its little "self" in society, nature, and Dhamma.'

I am not sure if Lenin (or Marx for that matter) knew anything about Buddhism. †Because Buddhism is man-made, it can suffer from all the problems of religion, but yet at its core, it can not be considered a 'religion' as defined in the West in general, or Marxist critique inparticular.

Its core tenants are simply these;

1) There is no permanent self (anatta).
2) All is change (annica).
3) There is suffering caused by viewing things as permanent, in relation to an eternal 'self' (dukkha). †

Through meditation, one learns to 'undo' the base ignorance, and free the mind from delusion - this state is termed 'nirvana'. †Compassion (karuna), is the inevitable result of this journey. †This is why I think Buddhism and Marxism are compatible.