Friday, March 16, 2007

Marxism and Religion


Marxism and Religion

The very first article that Marx wrote as a Marxist, i.e. as an advocate of workers’ revolution, began with a discussion of religion. Moreover that article, (‘The Introduction’ to ‘ A Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, 1843) contains what is probably Marx’s best known single line, namely ‘ Religion is the opium of the people’

Despite this Marx’s real attitude towards religion has remained largely unknown or misrepresented. There were times and places, for example Europe in the sixties, when this didn’t seem to matter very much because religion appeared to be a declining force in society. But the rise of Islam as a political issue , first in the eighties with the influence of the Iranian Revolution, and then with 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ changed all that . The world political situation became such that leftists and would be Marxists - and there were many – who failed to understand Marx’s analysis of religion, were likely to be blown completely off course.

The most common mistakes were: 1) the belief that Marx and Marxists were hostile to religion in the sense of wanting to ban or suppress it, as it was imagined had happened in Stalinist Russia; 2) the idea that Marxism regarded all religious ideas as simply stupid, backward and to be treated with contempt; 3) the notion that Marxists saw all religions and religious ideas as invariably allies or tools of reaction and the ruling class.

It is true of course that Marx was an atheist who rejected religious explanations of the world or events. This was part and parcel of his materialist philosophy and theory of history, which I have already discussed in this series. For Marx it was not consciousness that determined social being, but social being that determined social consciousness, not primarily ideas that shaped history but history that shaped ideas, and this applied to religion too. ‘Man makes religion, religion does not make man’, wrote Marx. But it was precisely this materialist approach that led Marx to produce a much more complex, rounded and , in a sense, sympathetic analysis of religion than is so often attributed to him.

If people make religion, they do so because religion meets, or appears to meet, real human needs. When religion was first developed in pre- class hunter-gatherer societies, human beings lived in close interaction with, and complete dependence on animal and natural forces, which, in one sense, they knew well, but of which they lacked any scientific understanding. In this situation religion tended to take the form of ‘pantheistic animism’. Rivers, winds, mountains, the sun and the moon, wolves, bears, monkeys, elephants etc were seen as endowed with gods or spirits. In other words religion provided emotional expression for feelings of dependency and an ‘explanation’ for the ups and downs of life, when no rational account was possible.

With the transition, 5000 or so years ago, to class divided, male dominated, state ruled societies, dependency on nature remained, but to it was added inequality, exploitation, slavery, dependence on, and domination by, social forces which were also outside people’s control and beyond their understanding – in a word, alienation. Religion reflected this. Gods ceased to be nature spirits and started to become powerful male authority figures like Zeus, Jehovah, and Allah while at the same time religion started to offer consolation to the downtrodden in the promise of an afterlife in which virtue not wealth is rewarded.

Marx puts it this way:

Religion is… the self consciousness and self awareness of man who either has not yet attained to himself or has already lost himself again… This state, this society, produces religion’s inverted attitude to the world because they are an inverted world themselves. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point of honour, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal basis for consolation and justification.

Thus religion comes in many different shapes and sizes and performs many different functions, depending always on the specific social conditions in which it is operating. There are versions of religion which serve to justify the position of the ruling class to itself ( even kings and dictators, bosses and generals need self justification); there are versions which justify the ruling class to the masses by preaching that the social order is God’s order and urging passivity and respect for authority ( ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’). There are also versions which give expression to the misery of the oppressed, to their hopes for a better world and even to their outright rebellion. Religion, says Marx,

…. is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless circumstances

One of the characteristics of the so called ‘great’ religions ( Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc) which have survived thousands of years, is that they are sufficiently adaptable to have played all these different roles in different times and places, while maintaining an appearance of continuity. Thus in seventeenth century Europe there was a feudal counterrevolutionary Christianity (Catholicism) and bourgeois revolutionary Christianity ( Calvinism); in the US in the sixties, there was White racist religion and Black anti-racist religion; in Latin America there is a Catholicism of the dictators and Yankee imperialism and a Catholicism of the poor and in the Middle East there is the pro – imperialist Islam of the Saudi royals and the anti- imperialist Islam of Hamas and Hizbollah.

From this analysis flow a number of political conclusions which contradict the stereotype often attributed to Marx. First, Marxists are completely opposed to any attempt to ban religion ( before or after the revolution). On the contrary they defend the principle of freedom of religious belief and worship for all. The only way religion can be ‘abolished’ is by abolishing the conditions of alienation and exploitation that give rise to it. Second, because socialist revolution is the act of the mass of workers themselves, it is inevitable and necessary that the revolution will be made by, and the revolutionary movement will include, workers with religious beliefs.

Third, Marxists reject the idea that any particular religion is inherently more reactionary, (or more progressive) than others. Clearly, at present, this applies principally to Islam, but in other circumstances it could be Hinduism, Confucianism etc. Our attitude to political movements with a religious coloration or religious leaders, such as the (Catholic) Hugo Chavez, or ( Buddhist) Tibetan nationalism or Falun Gong in China or Islamic resistance in Iraq and Palestine, is based not on the movement’s religious beliefs but on the material social forces it represents and the justice of its political cause.

John Molyneux

4 Feb 2007


j said...

wonderful blog, and i have to say your analysis of marxism as it stands with regards to religion is absolutely dead on.

as you have beautifully written, marxism does *not* stand for the abolition-by-decree of religion - rather it stands for abolishing the social, political, and economic preconditions that serve to perpetuate it - far too many people get the two notions mixed up.

it's great to see some other IST members around here :) i'm part of the IS in Canada.

i'm very very new to the blog world, and i have just created one with a socialist theme myself recently. i've added a link to yours as i think it could be an invaluable resource.

in solidarity


Unknown said...

You are a very evil man and destined for the gate of no life total disintegration of body and soul since you do not believe in heaven or Buddhas Gods or Daos then thats exactly what you will get when your body dies.

Please explain to those who value life what part of your beloved Marxism can excuse torture, murder suppression of those in this world who only seek to better themselves and harm no one else.

Why is that Marxism has been
responsible for the mass un- natural deaths of 80 million people in China alone and the deaths that communism committed on Russia's people too?

Disguise it all you want with philosophical jargon but marxism and communism are evil and all who walk that path knowingly are evil.

Please check these 5 sites about the communist regime and its plans for our future. Scary stuff but all true . Speak up while you still can. Quit the communist regime before heaven destroys it and its members along with it.

Cover for Action

Quit the CCP

Chi Haotian, Chinese Military Analyst’s Deadly Words
Here is link to what Wen Jiabao just said in the news this week
Another 100 years before Democracy in China says Wen,21985,21298234-663,00.html
And here what Luo Gan said in the previous week
Party dictates the Law and always will

Kapitano said...

You know your blog's a success when trolls start to comment on it. And if they're religious trolls, even better.

This religious troll seems to have set up an account specifically to post this one piece of drivel. I wish my blog inspired such dedication from idiots.

Unknown said...

RE Kapitano's comment.

This is my point exactly.What gracious humanity do you show when you call someone a religious troll?

The effects of Marxism today has evolved into state terrorism - communism which is anti-humanity and anti-universal. Communism today as it did yesterday suppresses all beliefs in anything other than communism including democracy and freedom of thought and speech.And it does it thru not being kind to each other but by bloody anti-human revolution

You cannot turn your back on your origin with out disastrous results.If you want a bright future then say no to communism. It's as simple as that.

Quit the Ccp before heavens destroy it.
Quit the CCP

Unknown said...

HI kapitino,
here is some more dedication to end the persecution torture and murder of Falun Gong in China.

You may be interested in this piece though about the Ccp who is the biggest cult on the planet today. You can read the whole commentary at

I. The Cultish Traits of the CCP

The Communist Party is essentially an evil cult that harms mankind.

Although the Communist Party has never called itself a religion, it matches every single trait of a religion (Table 1). At the beginning of its establishment, it regarded Marxism as the absolute truth in the world. It piously worshipped Marx as its spiritual God, and exhorted people to engage in a life-long struggle for the goal of building a “communist heaven on earth.”

Table 1. Religious Traits of the CCP.

The Basic Forms of a Religion and The Corresponding Forms of the CCP

1 Church or platform (podium) All levels of the Party committee; the platform ranges from Party meetings to all media controlled by the CCP

2 Doctrines Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong's Ideology, Deng Xiaoping's Theory, Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents", and Party Constitution

3 Initiation rites Ceremony in which oaths are taken to be loyal to the CCP forever

4 Commitment to one religion A member may only believe in the communist party

5 Priests Party Secretaries and staff in charge of party affairs on all levels

6 Worshiping God Slandering all Gods, and then establishing itself as an unnamed "God"

7 Death is called "ascending to heaven or descending to hell" Death is called "going to see Marx"

8 Scriptures The theory and writings of the Communist Party leaders

9 Preaching All sorts of meetings; leaders' speeches

10 Chanting scriptures; study or cross-examination of scriptures Political studies; routine group meetings or activities for the Party members

11 Hymn (religious songs) Songs to eulogize the Party

12 Donations Compulsory membership fees; mandatory allocation of governmental budget, which is money from people's sweat and blood, for the Party's use

13 Disciplinary punishment Party disciplines ranging from "house arrest and investigation" and "expulsion from the Party" to deadly tortures and even punishments of relatives and friends

The Communist Party is significantly different from any righteous religion. All orthodox religions believe in God and benevolence, and have as their purpose instructing humanity about morality and saving souls. The Communist Party does not believe in God and opposes traditional morality.

What the Communist Party has done proves itself to be an evil cult. The Communist Party’s doctrines are based upon class struggle, violent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat and have resulted in the so-called “communist revolution” full of blood and violence. The red terror under communism has lasted for about a century, bringing disasters to dozens of countries in the world and costing tens of millions of lives. The communist belief, one that created a hell on earth, is nothing but the vilest cult in the world.

j said...

other j (i want my name back):

you're arguing against a straw man here. where's the defense of so-called "communist" China in what John Molyneux has written? there is none.

if you understood marxism you'd understand that marxists also criticise the harsh treatment of religion, and religious people under these so-called "communist" regimes.

if you understood marxism you'd also understand that the genuine marxist tradition is about libertarian socialism-from-below, not authoritarian, bureaucratic state capitalist monopoly from above masquerading as socialism.

know the difference.

bhattathiri said...

American Justice Dept upheld Indian Yoga and Meditation

Your website is beautiful, informative and Excellent.

Article by M.P. Bhattathiri, Retired Chief Technical Examiner , to The Govt. of Kerala. Humble request that it may be published in your website and magazine after editing if necessary

In the storm of life we struggle through myriads of stimuli of pressure, stress, and muti-problems that seek for a solution and answer. We are so suppressed by the routine of this every life style that most of us seem helpless. However, if we look closely to ancient techniques we shall discover the magnificent way to understand and realize the ones around us and mostly ourselves. If only we could stop for a moment and allow this to happen…

Let me bow to Indian Maharishi Patanjali with folded hands who helped in removing the impurities of the mind through his writings on Yoga, impurities of speech through his writings on grammar, and impurities of body through his writings on Ayurveda.

The American justice Dept. have recently approved the power of yoga and meditation vide a recent judgement in the American court." Man Who Slapped Wife Sentenced to Yoga, It's Anger Management, Says Judge." First there was house arrest. Now there's yoga. A judge ordered a man convicted of slapping his wife to take a yoga class as part of his one-year probation. "It's part of anger management," County Criminal Court at Law Judge Larry Standley said of the ancient Hindu philosophy of exercise and well-being. "For people who are into it, it really calms them down. " Standley, a former prosecutor, said the case of James Lee Cross was unique. Cross, a 53-year-old car salesman from Tomball, explained that his wife was struggling with a substance abuse problem and that he struck her on New Year's Eve during an argument about her drinking. "He was trying to get a hold of her because she has a problem," Standley said after the court hearing. "I thought this would help him realize that he only has control over himself." The sentence came as a surprise to Cross, who was told to enroll in a class and report back to Standley on his progress. "I'm not very familiar with it," Cross said of yoga. "From what I understand, it may help in a couple ways, not only as far as mentally settling, but maybe a little weight loss." Darla Magee, an instructor at Yoga Body Houston in River Oaks, said she would recommend that Cross take a basic yoga class emphasizing breathing and including a variety of postures -- forward bends, back bends and twists. "Yoga can help us to get rid of many emotional issues we might have," she said. "It's a spiritual cleanse." Prosecutor Lincoln Goodwin agreed to a sentence of probation without jail time because Cross had no significant criminal history
Yoga which is one of the greatest Indian contribution to the world has got vast potential in all fields. In Tihar jail India Yoga is experimented among the inmates and found successful. Their criminal mentality is changed. This study aimed at investigating the effect of Vipassana Meditation (VM) on Quality of Life (QOL), Subjective Well-Being (SWB), and Criminal Propensity (CP) among inmates of Tihar Jail, Delhi. To this effect the following hypotheses were formulated. 1. There will be a significant positive effect of VM on the QOL of inmates of Tihar jail. 2. VM will have a positive and significant effect on SWB of inmates. 3. Criminal propensity (CP) of inmates will decrease significantly after attending the VM course. 4. There will be significant difference in SWB and CP of experimental (Vipassana) group and control (non-Vipassana) group. 5. Male and female inmates will differ significantly in SWB and CP, as a result of VM. In the famous "Time" magazine the importance meditation and yoga, an ancient Indian system, is high-lighted that the ancient mind- and spirit-enhancing art is becoming increasingly popular and gaining medical legitimacy. It is a multi billion dollar business in US. In many Universities it is accepted as subject and included in the Syllabus. In the latest famous book "Inspire! What Great Leaders Do" written by Mr.Lance Secretan recently published by John Wiley and sons, the benefit of meditation is elaborately described for good corporate governance. By practicing transcendental meditation, or TM, many people have got relief from back pain, neck pain, depression. The mind calms and quiets, . What thoughts you have during meditation become clearer, more focused. Anger, anxiety and worries give way to a peace. In the world exorbitant medical expenses one can definitely make use of meditation. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Ravi Sankar are popularizing this. The Iyengar Yoga institute in US is famous.
In Bhagavad-Gita Gita Lord Krishna has inspired Arjuna to rise from his depression by preaching Gita in the battlefield and to rise from the depression to do his duties. In Holy Gita we can see, being hidden by the cosmic overview of any institution beset with myriad problems, not the least of which is its lack of moral probity, there is a groundswell of educated people seeking answers to deeply personal but universally asked questions. Chie Executives taking lessons from yoga, meditation and learning how to deal with human resources equations in an enlightened manner. Individuals from every walk of life can get ideas of how to be better human beings, more balanced and less stressed out.
Medical studies continue to show regular meditation working magic in reducing blood pressure and stress-related illnesses, including heart disease. Brain images show that regular meditation helps calm the most active sensory-assaulted parts of the brain. The ancient Hindu sage Patanjali who had mastered the secrets of the human mind has written a book "Yogasutra".In this book we can see how super powers can be achieved by meditation. It has both cosmic relevance and cosmic resonance. In spite of its universal appeal, for most people total control of mind remains an elusive goal and daunting task. From time immemorial, there have been many attempts throughout the world to unlock the mysteries of the mind and to achieve total control over it through a variety of techniques. One of the most powerful of these techniques is meditation.
Many spiritual leaders, sages, saints, and holy people such asSri. Buddha, Sri Ramakrishna, Madam Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda have practiced this. One of the ways to control physiological reactions to psychological stimuli is meditation, Yoga, Zen Buddhism etc. The scientists take Transcendental Meditation (TM) as the uniform technique, and base their observations on the study of the subjects engaged in this form of meditation. In summing up the results the scientists have come to conclusion that the effect of meditation is a "wakeful, hypo-metabolic state". They have found that: 1) Yogis could slow both heart rate and rate of respiration, 2) Yogis could slow the rate of metabolism as confirmed by decreased oxygen consumption and carbon-die-oxide output. 3) Electro-Encephala-Gram (EEG - recording of brain activity) in Yogis showed changes of calmness in the form of "alpha rhythm" during both eyes closed and eyes open recordings. 4) Their skin resistance to electric stimulation was increased (indicating increased tolerance to external stimuli). Our usual 'defense-alarm' reaction to emotional and physical stress is in the form of "fright, flight, and fight" mediated through over-secretion of certain neuron-transmitters and neuron-modulators, namely adrenaline and dopamine by way of stimulation of sympathetic nervous system. Under the influence of these chemicals and hormones, we reflexively become panicky or aggressive, our blood pressure rises. Thus stress and anxiety is the end result if we allow our natural age-old sympathetic reactions to act and to come to surface. We try to run away, become fearful, or fight the situation. But today these 'defense-alarm' reactions have no place in our lives. Rather, they should be replaced by more calm and serene reactions of equanimity and fearlessness. The need is to just 'face the brute, and it will go away'. Such desirable reactions of non-aggression and peaceful attitude are generated by Y ga and meditation. EEG Studies on Yogis and The Zen Meditations: Yogis practicing Raja-Yoga claim that during the state of Samadhi they are oblivious to the internal and external stimuli, and they enjoy a calm ecstasy during that state. A study was undertaken to record the electrical activity of their brain during this state by means of a regular and useful test known as electroencephalography EEG. Physiological and experimental studies have demonstrated that the basis of conscious state of brain, among other things, is due to activation of "reticular system" in the brain-stem in response to internal and external stimuli. These stimuli bring about various changes during sleeping and wakeful states of the organism and these can be studied by EEG. The study was carried out on four subjects during the state of concentration and meditation. Effects of external stimuli, like a loud gong, strong light, thermal simulation, and vibrations were studied. The results were compiled and analyzed. It was observed that two Yogis could keep their hands immersed in extremely cold water for about 50 minutes (raised pain threshold). During the state of meditation, all of them showed persistent "alpha activity" in their EEG with increased amplitude wave pattern, both during 'eyes closed' and 'eyes open' recording. It was observed that these alpha activities could not be blocked by various sensory stimuli during meditation. It was also observed that those, who had well-marked "alpha activity" in their resting EEG showed greater aptitude and zeal for maintaining the practice of Yoga. Similar observations and results were obtained when EEGs were recorded in persons adept in Zen Meditative technique. Can we say that only those persons who exhibit such recording of "alpha wave rhythm" in their EEG are fit for Yoga? and be designated as right candidates for meditation and Yoga practices? (Such experiments are indeed very few and the number of yogis examined is also very small. Therefore, scientifically and statistically these observations have only a tentative importance. Further research is definitely called for, albeit it will have its own limitations.) It is said that in the unknown period of Lord Jesus Christ , He was under meditation.
Ref. Yoga magazines
New York times
Time magazine

Anonymous said...

I think that the one of the main yoga benefits is that this art gives you ability to develop your soul, but it's not a religion!

Anonymous said...

What you fail to mention is that when marxism speaks of the necessity for religious freedom both before and after the revolution, it also speaks of the necessity of lack of religious freedom within the party itself.

Anonymous said...

"State capitalism" is a nonsense. The Soviet Union was a workers' state, bureaucracy or no bureaucracy. I know some parties think Tony Cliff was the greatest thinker since Lenin, but I side with Trotsky on this one.

Lycas7x said...

I like the article. It was well written. A theocracy can be just as damaging as a political shadow overtone in our lives. I am trying not to associate myself with Christianity because of the recent movements divorcing themselves from science and sexuality.

I don't think Christ, Buddha or Abraham wanted to control our minds. It appears Marxs wanted to free as from the factory assembly line and mass production, as well as mass education. His values were taken out of context to fit the needs of the people in charge by instilling fear.

We have become so dependent on oil and fossil fuel, and technology rather than God and the land which was pointed out. Most of need a pay check and cant worry about it.

Machinery and the distribution of goods and resources will always be a male preoccupation and less they are killing each other over a soccer match. We need to think about this population pandemic.

Lycas7x said...

I like the article. It was well written. A theocracy can be just as damaging as a political shadow overtone in our lives. I am trying not to associate myself with Christianity because of the recent movements divorcing themselves from science and sexuality.

I don't think Christ, Buddha or Abraham wanted to control our minds. It appears Marxs wanted to free as from the factory assembly line and mass production, as well as mass education. His values were taken out of context to fit the needs of the people in charge by instilling fear.

We have become so dependent on oil and fossil fuel, and technology rather than God and the land which was pointed out. Most of need a pay check and cant worry about it.

Machinery and the distribution of goods and resources will always be a male preoccupation and less they are killing each other over a soccer match. We need to think about this population pandemic.

Viagra Online said...

There are big misconceptions of the relation between Marxism and religion, most of them created by the Soviet Regime. Thanks for make them clear. Buy Viagra Viagra said...

Wow, nice post,there are many person searching about that now they will find enough resources by your post.Thank you for sharing to us.Please one more post about that..

Anonymous said...

Mr Molyneux, can you explain why leftists obsess about Christian oppression - such as the short lived Atlantic slave trade (victims 10million) but ignore the age old and more destructive Islamic one (600 years and continuing, victims 140million and counting)?