Marxism and religion
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19th-century German philosopher Karl Marx, the founder and primary theorist of Marxism, viewed religion as “the soul of soulless conditions” or the “opium of the people”. At the same time, Marx saw religion as a form of protest by the working classes against their poor economic conditions and their alienation.
In the Marxist–Leninist interpretation, all modern religions and churches are considered as “organs of bourgeois reaction” used for “the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class”. A number of Marxist–Leninist governments in the 20th century such as the Soviet Union after Vladimir Lenin and the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong implemented rules introducing state atheism.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. 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 abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.
There are those who view that the early Christian Church such as that one described in the Acts of the Apostles was an early form of communism and religious socialism. The view is that communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus as the first communist. This link was highlighted in one of Marx’s early writings which stated that “[a]s Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty”.Furthermore, Thomas Müntzer led a large Anabaptist communist movement during the German Peasants’ War which Friedrich Engels analysed in The Peasant War in Germany. The Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god who does not discriminate among people. Tristram Hunt attributes a religious persuasion to Engels.
Vladimir Lenin on religion
In his book Religion, Vladimir Lenin was highly critical of religion, stating:
Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism.
In The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion, Lenin wrote:
Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.
Nonetheless, Lenin allowed Christians and other religious people in the Bolshevik Party. While critical of religion, Lenin also specifically made a point to not include it in Our Programme or his ideological goals, arguing:
But under no circumstances ought we to fall into the error of posing the religious question in an abstract, idealistic fashion, as an “intellectual” question unconnected with the class struggle, as is not infrequently done by the radical-democrats from among the bourgeoisie. It would be stupid to think that, in a society based on the endless oppression and coarsening of the worker masses, religious prejudices could be dispelled by purely propaganda methods. It would be bourgeois narrow-mindedness to forget that the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society. No number of pamphlets and no amount of preaching can enlighten the proletariat, if it is not enlightened by its own struggle against the dark forces of capitalism. Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on paradise in heaven