Controversial View: Religion Should Be A Private Matter Not only In Relation To The State, But To The Party Of The Advanced Proletariat

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“I am a seminarian and I will join the New People’s Army! Christians For National Liberation!”

I will start by saying that while I consider myself to be a (rather unorthodox) Leninist and a Trotskyist, I fundamentally disagree with Lenin’s and Trotsky’s position on how religion relates to the party of the advanced proletariat.

The Traditional Leninist Position

It should be said that, contrary to myth, Lenin never outlawed religion as such, and made it explicitly clear in his writings that freedom of conscience should reign in socialist society. In The Attitude of The Workers’ Party to Religion, Lenin stated that while

“Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organization, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class” (Lenin Collected Works Volume 15, p. 403)

that,

“Engels frequently condemned the efforts of people who desired to be ‘more left’ or ‘more revolutionary’ than the Social-Democrats to introduce into the programme of the workers’ party an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion”(Ibid).

This, by the way, shows the anti-Leninist attitude of Albania under Enver Hoxha, who declared all religious worship and practice to be illegal in 1967 and barred religious cadres from joining the party. This pseudo-revolutionary policy of barring religious cadres is also taken up by the Communist Party of China today.

Furthermore, Lenin goes on saying that

“…in 1877, too, in his Anti- Dühring, while ruthlessly attacking the slightest concessions made by Dühring the philosopher to idealism and religion, Engels no less resolutely condemns Dühring’s pseudo-revolutionary idea that religion should be prohibited in socialist society. To declare such a war on-religion, Engels says, is to ‘out-Bismarck Bismarck’, i.e., to repeat the folly of Bismarck’s struggle against the clericals…” (Ibid).

But make no mistake as to Lenin’s position on the matter. Lenin also said

Social-Democrats regard religion as a private matter in relation to the state, but not in relation to themselves, not in relation to Marxism, and not in relation to the workers’ party” (Idib, 404).

Despite this, Lenin actually advocated the allowances of religious members and even priests into the communist party if they so wished, saying,

“If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties, without opposing the programme of the Party, he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats; for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our programme and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone, his own private contradiction; and a political organisation cannot put its members through an examination to see if there is no contradiction between their views and the Party programme.” (Ibid, 408).

“Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated.” (Lenin Collected Works, Volume 10, p. 84)

But Lenin constantly emphasized the atheism of materialism and Marxism in saying,

“Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as was the materialism of the eighteenth- century Encyclopaedists or the materialism of Feuerbach. This is beyond doubt. But the dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels goes further than the Encyclopaedists and Feuerbach, for it applies the materialist philosophy to the do- main of history, to the domain of the social sciences. We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism.” (Lenin Collected Works Volume 15, p. 405)

In short, Lenin believed that religion should be a private affair in regard to the state, but not in regard to the party of the advanced proletariat. Lenin taught that the party of the advanced proletariat should fight against religious beliefs as such, even though it never believed in barring religious members from joining, as the contradiction of doing so was a purely personal one. Lenin believed that religion itself was to be combatted, and not merely the bourgeois nature of modern religion.

The Position of Rosa Luxemburg and James Connolly, and Consequently, My Position

Rosa Luxemburg and James Connolly, two of the famous revolutionary Marxists of the 20th century take an entirely different position on the matter of religion in regards to the party of the advanced proletariat. It is precisely their position that I advocate instead of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s.

James Connolly explicitly addresses his view on the matter in a section of Workers’ Republic, June 17, 1899 titled The New Evangel, Socialism and Religion, The Known and the Unknowable. Connolly begins by addressing the fact that the relationship between socialism and atheism is often used as a last ditch attack by the bourgeoisie against the principles of socialism. We saw this in the 20th century with the addition of “In God We Trust” to American currency during the height of the Cold War to combat “Godless” Communism. But in the case of the Cold War, this bourgeois attack had a material basis in the shameful religious persecutions that took place in the so-called Marxist-Leninist states of the 20th Century. Connolly states that this intentional bourgeois obfuscation on the question of religion and socialism often works negatively to deter a religious worker away from socialist politics. A firmly established position of atheism no doubt turns the religious worker away from any socialist party 9/10 of the time, and is undoubtedly negative. In fact, religious persecution was one of the main factors contributing to the fall of the USSR and Eastern Bloc. Connolly further clarifies the pre-Leninist position of the socialists saying that,

“The Socialist Party of Ireland prohibits the discussion, of theological or anti-theological questions at its meetings, public or private. This is in conformity with the practice of the chief Socialist parties of the world, which have frequently, in Germany for example, declared Religion to be a private matter, and outside the scope of Socialist action.* Modern Socialism, in fact, as it exists in the minds of its leading exponents, and as it is held and worked for by an increasing number of enthusiastic adherents throughout the civilized world, has an essentially material, matter-of-fact foundation. We do not mean that its supporters are necessarily materialists in the vulgar, and merely anti-theological, sense of the term, but that they do not base their Socialism upon any interpretation of the language or meaning of Scripture, nor upon the real or supposed intentions of a beneficent Deity.* They as a party neither affirm or deny those things, but leave it to the individual conscience of each member to determine what beliefs on such questions they shall hold. As a political party they wisely prefer to take their stand upon the actual phenomena of social life as they can be observed in operation amongst us to-day, or as they can be traced in the recorded facts of history. If any special interpretation of the meanings of Scripture tends to influence human thought in the direction of Socialism, or is found to be on a plane with the postulates of Socialist doctrine, then the scientific Socialist considers that the said interpretation is stronger because of its identity with the teachings of Socialism, but he does not necessarily believe that Socialism is stronger, or its position more impregnable, because of its theological ally. He realises that the facts upon which his Socialist faith are based are strong enough in themselves to withstand every shock, and attacks from every quarter, and therefore while he is at all times willing to accept help from every extraneous source, he will only accept it on one condition, viz., that he is not to be required in return to identify his cause with any other whose discomfiture might also involve Socialism in discredit. This is the main reason why Socialists fight shy of theological dogmas and religions generally: because we feel that Socialism is based upon a series of facts requiring only unassisted human reason to grasp and master all their details, whereas Religion of every kind is admittedly based upon ‘faith’ in the occurrence in past ages of a series of phenomena inexplicable by any process of mere human reasoning. Obviously, therefore, to identify Socialism with Religion would be to abandon at once that universal, non-sectarian character which to-day we find indispensable to working-class unity, as it would mean that our members would be required to conform to one religious creed, as well as to one specific economic faith – a course of action we have no intention of entering upon as it would inevitably entangle us in the disputes of the warring sects of the world, and thus lead to the disintegration of the Socialist Party.

Socialism, as a party, bases itself upon its knowledge of facts, of economic truths, and leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mohammedan nor Parsee – it is only human” (Socialism and Religion, 1899, James Connolly).

*My Bold – TFB

Rosa Luxemburg, a figure so famous among the left that there can no doubt as to her loyalty to Marxism, goes a step further saying that not only should religion be considered a private matter in relation to the party of the advanced proletariat, but to social-democracy as such, saying,

“And here is the answer to all the attacks of the clergy: the Social-Democracy in no way fights against religious beliefs. On the contrary, it demands complete freedom of conscience for every individual and the widest possible toleration for every faith and every opinion.* But, from the moment when the priests use the pulpit as a means of political struggle against the working classes, the workers must fight against the enemies of their rights and their liberation. For he who defends the exploiters and who helps to prolong this present regime of misery, he is the mortal enemy of the proletariat, whether he be in a cassock or in the uniform of the police.” (Socialism and The Churches, 1905, Rosa Luxemburg).

*My bold – TFB

It is in this tradition, that of the pre-Leninist Marxists that I fall. It is well known to my readers that I am a follower of Liberation Theology, and, consequently, a religious communist. It must be said, however, that while we have to combat bourgeois religion due to its loyalty to the bourgeoisie, this fight should be taken up because it is bourgeois and not because it is religion as such. This fight should be taken up by religious communists as well, for every minute a religious institution supports capitalism, it betrays its own emancipatory foundations. We should support any religious movement that tries to emancipate itself from the chains of bourgeois ideology and the defense of capitalist exploitation. Religion always defends the prevailing socioeconomic order, but, with the stubborn struggle against social change, it eventually comes around to support the new order once it is firmly established. Such will no doubt be the path taken by the church when socialism inevitably triumphs over the earth. But by making the struggle against religion an active policy of the party of the advanced proletariat, as was the case in the 20th century, it actually works to prevent this future support by religious institutions of socialism. On the contrary, religious institutions under a socialist state hostile to religious belief will never come around to support socialist society as they did support capitalist society, even though the ethics of socialism fall infinitely more in line with religious teachings than those of capitalism. Such institutions under such conditions will act to militantly defend the reign of the bourgeoisie, and be permanently opposed to socialism.

To quote St. Paisios of Mt. Athos,

“Personally, if the communists weren’t atheist, if they didn’t hunt Christ, I would agree with them. It’s good for the plots of land, the factories, to belong to everyone; not for one to be hungry while someone else is throwing away food.”
-Elder Paisios

That is the only contradiction between religion and socialism the socialist movement of the 21st century need worry about.

I consider myself to be a materialist but not an atheist, and no, there is no contradiction. An actual philosophical inquiry as to my interpretation of materialism and consciousness, however, will be saved for a future post as it would be too lengthy to go into in this post.

I strongly advocate that socialist and communist parties everywhere, not only in the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg and James Connolly, but in the spirit of learning from the horrendous tragedies of the 20th century Marxist-Leninist states, take on an attitude of neutrality towards religion as such.

Sources:

Lenin Collected Works Volume 10

Lenin Collected Works Volume 15

Socialism and Religion, James Connolly

Socialism and The Churches, 1905, Rosa Luxemburg

Elder Paisios Quote

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