‘Atheism, as the denial of this inessentiality, has no longer any meaning, for atheism is a negation of God, and postulates the existence of man through this negation; but socialism as socialism no longer stands in any need of such a mediation. It proceeds from the practically and theoretically sensuous consciousness of man and of nature in the essence. Socialism is man’s positive self-consciousness no longer mediated through the annulment of religion, just as real life is man’s positive reality, no longer mediated through the annulment of private property, through communism. Communism is the position as the negation of the negation, and is hence the actual phase necessary for the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and recovery. Communism is the necessary pattern and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but communism as such is not the goal of human development – the structure of human society.’
Karl Marx: Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (i.e. the ‘Paris Manuscripts’) 1844
Interestingly, Marx never finished this manuscript for publication at the time of its writing, and it lay hidden for around 80 years. It was partly translated and published in 1927 in the Soviet Union, and published in full in the German language in 1932 (in Berlin), just one year prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his anti-Communist National Socialist movement. The above quote is from the sub-chapter entitled ‘Private Property and Communism’ (as edited and presented by RC Tucker). This text of Marx only became available three years after the death of Lenin (1924), and 10 years after the Russian October Revolution (1927). However, the general attitude of Marx toward religion was readily available to the Soviet planners, the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the USSR states – in Article 52:
‘Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda. Incitement of hostility or hatred on religious grounds is prohibited. In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.’
In Article 34 of the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the USSR, it reads:
‘Citizens of the USSR are equal before the law, without distinction of origin, social or property status, race or nationality, sex, education, language, attitude to religion, type and nature of occupation, domicile, or other status. The equal rights of citizens of the USSR are guaranteed in all fields of economic, political, social, and cultural life.’
Of course, Marx and Lenin rhetorically attacked the premise of a theology that is practised by a politicised church, and made the observation that belief in a theistic entity is a human mind functioning in an inverted manner – all this is true. An inverted mind mistakes a thought in the head, for a concrete entity in the material environment. A politicised church has gained temporal power and holds its human population in a state of arrested evolutionary development. As the teachings of religions are presupposed to generating a sense of inner peace within the turmoil of the external world, seeking and gaining political power is a severe deviation away from this function. It is this ‘politicisation’ of religion that Marx (Engels) and Lenin focus their intellectual fire upon. It is not that religion does no good (Marx admits as much even when accusing religious teachings as being like an ‘opiate’ to the masses), but that when religious teachings are in the hands of corrupt individuals, then those teachings become corrupt and counter-productive. The working class within a capitalist society experience an existential misery which the politicised church supports and endorses, teaching these workers to accept without resistance all the oppression that comes their way, and to put their ‘faith’ in a far-off ‘heaven’ that no one has seen, and which somehow exists ‘beyond’ this material realm.
Even after establishing the Marxist-Leninist attitude toward religion, ‘attacking’ religion is not a developed Marxist-Leninist attitude. Marx and Lenin are attacking the psychological and philosophical inconsistencies that underly theology, and are not attacking a) religions, or b) religious people, and it is a grave dialectical error to assume that they are. Verbally and physically attacking religions (and religious people) is a ‘fascist’ and ‘neo-Nazi’ reactionary response to ‘difference’, and has nothing to do with genuine Communist ideology. Yes, workers must be educated, but this has nothing to do with generating ‘hatred’ toward those things that are not liked or tolerated. The problem with some modern-day Marxists and Leninists is that they assume an uneducated (reactionary) attitude toward religion which they have acquired from anti-Communist and Trotskyite Cold War propaganda. In that fantasy world, the USSR (behaving like Nazi Germany), carried-out terrible pogroms against religions. The problem is that this attitude is not only ‘inverted’ in mind function, but ‘ahistorical’ in reality. Outside of the fictional narratives concocted in the West, and in the Russian Orthodox Church (which smarted from losing political power in 1917), religion flourished in the USSR. Not only did Soviet academia have special departments for studying religion and spiritual philosophy, (Stalin established an institute in 1928 to study Buddhist culture in the USSR), but there are incidences of Soviet law being modified so as to be suitable to Islamic or Christian areas of the Soviet Union.
People who believe in theistic religions are still workers. Like any worker they require ongoing education and development. A worker who is completely ‘free’ of theistic belief does not ‘reject’ religion out of hand, and does not advocate a reliance upon religion as a primary habit of mind. He or she operates a wise ‘disinterestedness’, and respects those with faith and those without faith in an equal manner. Yes, the Marxist-Leninist view can be expressed through dialectical reasoning, but ‘force’ and ‘violence’ of opinion is not Marxist-Leninist. It is also true that many religious people (by birth) have developed a Marxist-Leninist understanding whilst still maintaining a religious belief. Obviously, the structure of Soviet law fully recognises this reality of transitional development, and whilst making material existence much better for the workers (and thereby reducing oppression and suffering in everyday life), religions (and religious people) are not persecuted or attacked. The Constitution of Communist China also recognises this reality, with Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism being ‘modernised’ to assist the Communist Party of China build Socialism. These philosophical teachings are modernised through the insights of Marx, Lenin and Mao, so that primitive, backward or superstitious elements are abandoned, and the truly great and progressive aspects of these schools are enhanced and developed further. Meditational development has been recognised as useful toward worker development (perhaps due to Marx stating that he once dabbled in meditation in a letter to a friend). The point here is that large swathes of humanity, through no fault of their own, are brought-up religious and conditioned to believe. Marxist-Leninists must a) understand religion, and b) know how to mediate Marxist-Leninist ideology and religious theology. Perhaps one of the biggest ironies for those who adopt an aggressive attitude toward religion, is that many religions are previous historical attempts at building utopian ‘Communist’ realities upon earth.
Lenin views all true Socialists as ‘atheists’ in as much as each Revolutionary individual should have freed his or herself from the oppressive burden of a State religion that obscures free-thinking and crushes the body with exploitative demands. Lenin also recognises that workers can partly free themselves of the worst (exploitative) aspects of religion, whilst modifying religious teachings to express support for Scientific Socialism. In such a case – Lenin says – the Bolshevik movement recognises this Revolutionary effort and supports Revolutionary initiatives from religious groups that seek to completely separate Church from State. In his pivotal 1905 text entitled ‘Socialism and Religion’, Lenin states on this matter:
‘The Russian revolution must put this demand into effect as a necessary component of political freedom. In this respect, the Russian revolution is in a particularly favourable position, since the revolting officialism of the police-ridden feudal autocracy has called forth discontent, unrest and indignation even among the clergy. However abject, however ignorant Russian Orthodox clergymen may have been, even they have now been awakened by the thunder of the downfall of the old, medieval order in Russia. Even they are joining in the demand for freedom, are protesting against bureaucratic practices and officialism, against the spying for the police imposed on the “servants of God”. We socialists must lend this movement our support, carrying the demands of honest and sincere members of the clergy to their conclusion, making them stick to their words about freedom, demanding that they should resolutely break all ties between religion and the police. Either you are sincere, in which case you must stand for the complete separation of Church and State and of School and Church, for religion to be declared wholly and absolutely a private affair. Or you do not accept these consistent demands for freedom, in which case you evidently are still held captive by the traditions of the inquisition, in which case you evidently still cling to your cosy government jobs and government-derived incomes, in which case you evidently do not believe in the spiritual power of your weapon and continue to take bribes from the state. And in that case the class-conscious workers of all Russia declare merciless war on you.’
For Lenin, any religous construct that is the unthinking product of feudalism, the bourgeoisie or the capitalist system, and which mindlessly pursues the oppression of the peasants and workers, (as well as existing in a parasitic manner), are obviously enemies of Scientific Socoalism. Inshort, this type of religion is reactionary in content and function, and supportive of the exploitation of the masses. It is ths manifestation of religion that Lenin rejects out of hand. However, Lenin offers support to those religious groups (and religious individuals) which have developed a progressive mind-set and adjusted their religious beliefs to support the over-throw of the old (exploitative) order. This distinction is made clear by Lenin at this time, as he was concerned about certain individual Bolsheviks who were allowing religious tendencies and viewpoints to infiltrate the Bolshevik movement, thus replacing Scientific Socialism with theology (the latter of which cannot free the workers).
Hatred or disapproval are bourgeois responses and are unsuitable attitudes for Marxist-Leninists to hold with regard to religions and religiously minded individuals. Yes, religions can be dangerous, as can science in the wrong hands, or indeed political ideology. I am not condoning thousands of years of Church oppression, violence or murder in the West, (or any religiously motivated tyranny in the rest of the world), but I am acknowledging the fact that historical (cultural) forces manufacture religions and religious followers – and this is not the fault of the individuals concerned. Marxist-Leninists must exhibit the highest level of perceptual understanding and dialectical analysis and response. This is a grave responsibility because religious believers are workers as well, and need to be guided toward Socialism and Communism. When religion has functioned well, the individuals and establishments concerned have assisted humanity and relieved suffering (albeit in a different model to Marxist-Leninism). It is exactly these good and progressive elements of religion that must serve as parallel constructs which can be encouraged and developed by Marxist-Leninists. This pragmatic approach does not contradict Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin or Mao, but does recognise with respect, all the religious people in the world who are Socialists and Communists. As Marxist-Leninists (i.e. ‘Communists’), we must never let the bourgeoisie, the Trotskyites or the fascists to misrepresent our history, or force-feed us false historical narratives. Religions can be bigoted, intolerant and dogmatic, but these are the very same attributes that define the rightwing.
In the Jewish Question, Marx explains that although religion transitions from a public to a private concerned through political emancipation, it is not the intention of a Socialist Revolution to eradicate or abolish religion:
‘Man emancipates himself politically from religion by expelling it from the sphere of pubic law to that of private. Religion is nolonger the spirit of the State, in which man behaves, albeit in a specific and limited way and in a particular sphere, as a species-being, in community with other men. It has become the spirit of civil society, of the sphere of egoism and of the bellum omnium contra omnes (Latin: ‘War of all against all’). It is nolonger the essence of community, but the essence of differentiation. It has become what it was at the beginning, an expression of the fact that man is separated from the community, from himself and from other men. It is now only the abstract avowal of an individual folly, a private whim or caprice. The infinite fragmentation of religion in North America, for example, already gives it the external form of a strictly private affair. It has been relegated among the numerous private interests and exiled from the life of the community as such. But one should have no illusions about the scope of political emancipation. The division of man into the public person and the private person, the displacement of religion from the State to civil society – all this is not a stage in political emancipation but its consummation. Thus political emancipation does not abolish, and does not even strive to abolish, man’s real religiosity.’
The religious impulse is toward wholeness, or toward a state of non-alienation. This invariably requires some type of disciplined journey toward the emancipatory goal (of salvation). The problem is that this religious ‘goal’ is always ‘somewhere else’ and never ‘here’. As the end product of religious effort is not here, it cannot be scientifically proven as existing in reality. Religion appears to be attempting an answer for the suffering experienced in this lifetime, and it does this by suggesting that after physical death there is a) an afterlife, and b) a reward in paradise. Theistic religion does not, and cannot solve the problem of existential suffering, although the disciplined path toward its goal can be useful for humanity in a limited sense, and give fuel to Revolutionary ideals – but this is where Marxist-Leninism comes to the forefront. Marxist-Leninism seeks to change the relationships within society through the workers taking control of the means of production. Once this has been acquired, and the working class has taken power, all the old inequalities and corruptions are washed away. Lenin understood this and stated that once the suffering in society (that generated the conditions for theistic religions to development) have been eradicated through Revolutionary transformation, then there will be no dialectical reason for religion to exist in its primitive forms. However, a religious person need not be apprehensive or reactionary toward Marxist-Leninist thinking, as within a Socialist State, religions will have all the freedoms they need, but will exist outside the political system. When the teachings of theistic religions are examined in their purest form, it is clear that their founders did not intend for their followers to engage in the prevailing political systems, seeing such activity as vulgar and low. This being the case, the Marxist-Leninist injunction against religious involvement within politics actually serves to return religions to their earlier, and more pristine condition. When this is understood clearly, it is then the duty of the religious person to demonstrate their usefulness for all humanity by assisting in the building of a Socialist society without reverting to bourgeois habits of reactionary resistance. It is probably the case that the religious impulse will evolve into exactly same Revolutionary impulse that underlies all Scientific Socialist activity, with all (religious) distinctions disappearing as the new reality renders each aspect redundant. This is not a process that can be rushed or forced, and is certainly not brought any closer by hating the religiously minded.
Finally, a word about individuals who have abandoned religion and aliged themselves with Marxist-Leninism. All development is good either within or outside of religion. This is not a problem in its self. However, quite often it is the case that the psychological constriants that sustained religious belief still exist within the mind, and that the individual copes with this by develoiping an antagonistic attitude toward these inner conditioned elements by projecting an anger onto to all external religious constructs. By attacking the physical manifestation of religion, the individual sustains the ability to keep old theocrtic habits at bay through a balance of tensions. Be this as it may, this is not a Marxist-Leninist attitude, but it is often presnted as if it is. Marx clearly states that Socialism – although non-theistic – has no pupose for a one-sided ‘atheism’, as Socialism is a progressive, dialectical developmet whereny the double bind (dichotomy) of ‘theism’ versus ‘atheism’ is permanently transcended and nolonger relevant. This would imply that the USSR was ‘non-theistic’ as a State that professed science, but that it was NOT ‘anti-theism’, anymore than it was ‘pro-theism’. When the human mind evolves in a Marxist-Leninist direction, (without being bound by limited constructs of ‘Marx’ and ‘Lenin’), there is no end to its progressive development. In this regard, such a Socialist mind reed from the tyranny of conditioned history, is able to ‘think’ and ‘understand’ in any circumstance, and about any situation. This is how a Marxist-Leninist understands the entire phenomenon of religion, and nolonger finds it mysterous or unfathamable. Those who decide to move away from religion must not waste time stuck in the psychological quagmire of ‘hating’ religion, but must rapidly move on and develop a truly impartial mind-set (and disinterested appreciation of religion).