I have posted this image here before but I think it deserves another post because to me it is so fundamental. I think one of the Bolsheviks biggest mistakes was foregoing this principle, the Bolshevik Party accepted religious members but the party itself was inherently atheistic. On this issue I side with the party of Connolly and the early German party. Marxist materialism to me is an analytical tool, why insist upon matters of God as absolute fact? Criticize religion, yes! Please do by all means! Religious fundamentalism is something I despise as much as the next person. Replace ‘religion’ itself with ‘religious fundamentalism’ and I’ll agree with everything Marx has to say on the issue.
Firstly it is a mistake to insist on such matters as any business of the state, secondly from a strategic point of view it is simply guaranteeing that you will increase bourgeois and religious reaction towards socialism tenfold. State atheism is one of the key factors that led to the fall of communism in Europe. You cannot prohibit religion in the same way that you cannot prohibit drugs or alcohol, the state cannot insist upon one theological belief or lack thereof. State secularism must be the policy of any future socialist policy, on religion it must take the attitude of Connolly.
Go back to Marx, his belief was that communism would make religion superfluous, NOT that it was something to be prohibited or done away with by any means of force, except when the church and state are merged and in that case- even I support such actions. He believed that religion is the reaction to the human suffering brought about by class society. That removing the root cause of this suffering would remove the need for something like religion to appease that suffering. I do not share in this view. Religion is yes used by the ruling class to solidify its rule. But will it ever go away? I certainly do not think so, even in a thousand years people will still find reason to believe in a higher power or system of beliefs that there is something better after death. The reasons people cling to religion are not merely class antagonisms or the suffering brought about by the bourgeoisie, this to me is absurd.
Of course I agree that such a belief system should not and cannot reinforce systematic suffering and oppression here on earth, in this sense Marx’s criticism of religion is correct. Instead of upholding atheism, having such neutrality on this issue will cause religion to first rebel against any change to the social order as it always does. But then it will act as it has in all previous epochs- as a force which solidifies the new ruling class which is the proletariat and thereby defend the destruction of class society. In this way religion acts not in opposition to socialism but wholly in support of it- not merely out of self interest but because this ideology returns itself to its ideological roots.
Has class society not tainted religion in every possible way? Has it not been forced defended systems fundamentally based on greed, extortion, violence, and theft, systems that betray its own ideology in the name of self preservation? Has it not been obliged by the material conditions it finds itself in to reject the very founding principles of the faith itself? The abolition of class society is the abolition of its poisonous effect on all things including its poisonous effect on religion. The call for socialism is thus a call for religion to turn back to its ideological roots, in Christianity in particular that is the call for the rejection of greed, selfishness and even the state itself.
“Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in the place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.” – The Communist Manifesto