Communist Party of Great Britain
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Faith and communists

How should religious comrades approach membership of Marxist organisations, and vice versa?

Doing the Lord's work?

Mark Fischer writes:

A comrade wrote us recently expressing an interest in joining the CPGB. One thing troubled him though and he added this question to his formal application:

I understand Marx’s doctrine is anti-religious but I have also heard of people being Christian communists who support Marx’s doctrine aside from the religious aspect. My question is, within your party is this possible or do you take a firm stand against religion? Also what do I do if I join and become a member?”

In the exchange that followed, I reassured the comrade that religious views were no barrier to party membership, indeed we have had in the past “serving Church of England priests” in our ranks! As long as religious comrades met the same criteria as other members - acceptance of the draft programme as the basis for common action, payment of dues, disciplined work in a party collective - they could be signed up. The tension between their spirituality and the materialist world view of the party they were in was a private tension for them to reconcile or simply live with.

In my reply to the comrade, I used two quotes from a useful four-article series in the Weekly Worker over 2000-2001 - ‘Karl Marx and religion’, by comrade Michael Malkin. One quote stood out from the first instalment:

Another question: should workers and others who sincerely want to participate in the struggle for revolution, but who are religious believers, be excluded from membership of the Party? Again, definitely not. The best antidote to religion and other forms of superstition is involvement in the collective, democratic struggle for socialism itself. Of course, the Party will obviously seek to free such comrades from their religious illusions. It is, however, primarily the unity that comes from revolutionary social practice, from the shared tasks and hardships of the struggle, that will do the job most effectively. Here too, I would argue that a communist ethic, emerging not from preaching, but from practice, has an important role to play.” (‘Karl Marx and religion’Weekly Worker December 21 2000).

Similarly, the last instalment in the series ends like this:

I trust that comrade Collinge, [a comrade who expressed similar concerns about his religious beliefs – MF] having read what has gone before, will have no fears that the CPGB harbours any intention of launching a war against religion, let alone doing to death those who profess their faith in god. Let him and all like him come to us and join the fight for that objective which, whatever our individual backgrounds, unites us all - the self-emancipation of the working class and the communist revolution.” (‘Karl Marx and religion’Weekly Worker March 21 2001).

On reflection, we thought the series was good enough not simply to quote from but to feature here for a time, on the front page of our site. We would be interested in the views of other comrades of faith to the approach outlined in these articles:

Karl Marx and religion

Weekly Worker, December 21 2000

Weekly Worker, February 1 2001

Weekly Worker, March 1 2001

Weekly Worker, March 29 2001