Religion, as defined by Marxism, is fantastic reality. Religion is fantastic, not in the trite sense that the claims religion makes are untrue, unreal or unverifiable, but in the sense that nature and society are reflected in exaggerated form, as leaping shadows, as symbols or inversions. Obviously, religion should therefore not be dismissed as “mostly bunk”.
But there is more to it than that. Religious ideas are not only determined by reality: they can themselves “become materially effective”. The ideas people have in their heads - especially when mediated through powerful institutions such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples - no matter how wrapped up in the godly, impact on their surroundings. After all, everything which moves people into action must first go through their minds; and therefore what people have in their minds must feed back into, and thereby interpenetrate with, material conditions. Grasping this unity of opposites, Marxism is able to analyse the true content and significance of religion with unsurpassed insight.
Clearly the gods never made humanity. Rather humanity made the gods ... and made them in their own image. And as society comes to be cleaved into classes - oppressed and oppressor, slave and master, serf and lord - these antagonisms in all their complexity find their evolving expression in heaven (albeit a necessarily lagging and therefore a conservative one). The struggle of one religion against another is therefore also the struggle of one class against another. Besides being an ideology of social control made from above, religion serves as an ideology of comfort, resistance and even revolution made from below. Marx’s famous quote “Religion is the opium of the people” is the last sentence in a longer, very insightful, quote, which begins: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”
Religion, as defined by Marxism, is fantastic reality. Fantastic, not in the trite sense that the claims religion makes about existence are verifiably untrue, unreal or baseless, but in the sense that nature and society are reflected in exaggerated form, as leaping shadows, as symbols or inversions. So religion should not be dismissed as mere false consciousness. Religion reflects something of the real; but, as Jack Conrad's book shows, there is even more to it than that. Religious ideas are not only determined by reality: they can themselves become materially effective. The ideas people have in their heads - especially when mediated through institutions such as churches, mosques and temples - no matter how wrapped up in the godly and seemingly unrelated to the corporeal world, impact on their surroundings.
We must acknowledge that the optimistic assumption shared by many Marxists to the effect that scientific and technological progress, together with advances in education, would by themselves mechanically lead to the withering away of religion has proved wrong. Michael Malkin examines the issue
Michael Malkin discusses Marx's critique of religion in the early 1840s
Michael Malkin looks at Karl Marx’s The German ideology, a document that has raised a number of highly contentious questions in the Marxist tradition
In the last of a series of articles, Michael Malkin outlines the attitude of communists to believers
Even in the 21st century Jesus is still a much prized figure. In this the second chapter of his new book Jack Conrad shows how Jesus has been used and abused by almost every political persuasion
Paul Greenaway reviews Richard Dawkins's The root of all evil?
Jack Conrad discusses Marxist strategy and tactics
Mehdi Kia of Iran Bulletin - Middle East Forum addressed the March 26 London Communist Forum on the question, 'Will Iran be next? Should we align ourselves with the ayatollahs?' This is an edited version of his speech
James Turley reviews Kenan Malik’s From fatwa to jihad: the Rushdie affair and its legacy Atlantic, 2009, pp266, £16.99
Camilla Power addressed the CPGB's Communist University on the origins and evolution of religion. This is an edited version of her speech
Lionel Sims disagrees with conclusions Darvill and Wainwright reached about Stonehenge after a recent dig there. Comrade Sims, a member of the Radical Anthropology Group and the SWP, says that it can only be understood properly in the context of the defeat of the female sex and the transition from primitive communism to class society
Al Richardson, who died last week, made a valuable contribution to Marxist thought. As a tribute we republish his article on the Asiatic mode of production, based on an opening given to Communist University 2001