Calling Marxism a Religion
In recent conversations on twitter with a bloke from Australia, I noticed that he kept making references to Marxism as a religion. Today we’re going to examine this claim, and see if it holds up to scrutiny.
I think it’s wise to attempt this question piece by piece, and examine all the meanings of the words we are attempting to define here. After all, this really is a question of semantics, but words do carry more than just their meanings, in many ways words are very important, language is very important to how we see the world, the philosophies we hold, and our way of thinking. Let’s begin.
First let’s define the word religion. For the sake of brevity, let’s just use the definition from Webster’s online dictionary:
the state of a religious
<a nun in her 20th year ofreligion
>b (1) :
the service and worship of God or the supernatural(2) :
commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
— re·li·gion·less adjective
Ok, so a religion is defined as a set of beliefs, or a belief system, usually in the supernatural, and including its practices, observances etc.
Now, let’s define Marxism, shall we? Again, from Webster’s:
the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx; especially : a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society.
Ok, that seems fair. Now does Marxism have a set or institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs and practices? No, it does not. There is no temple to Marx, there is no such thing as the Church of Marx, there is no liturgy, sacrament etc. It just doesn’t have the trappings of a religion. Ah, but you may say, what about the hammer and sickle? Well, that is symbolism, but many things that are not religions have symbols. Take Amnesty International, and their candle. Or take the U.S. and it’s eagle. Surely you wouldn’t argue that America is a religion? Of course not. Symbolism does not a religion make. Well, what about Das Kapital, and the Communist Manifesto? Again, other things that no one would accuse of being a religion have literature that talks about the organization, or ideology etc. For example, no one would call free market capitalism a religion, even though there is literature that is highly regarded by free market advocates. e.g. Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” etc. Again, literature does not a religion make.
So what does make a religion? And what about Marxism makes it not a religion? Religion is belief. Belief in how the world originated, or the supernatural, deities, angels, demons, ghosts, animism, priests and rabbis and preachers etc. Religions have systems of practice, they meet, go through certain motions, pray, religiously (haha) read their scriptures etc. Marxism is none of that. Marxism is a political ideology. So is liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, or even fascism. Those are political ideologies, and they fall under the study of political science. The key word there is SCIENCE. Science and religion are mutually exclusive. Completely and utterly so. Religion cannot be verified by empirical evidence, or testing, you can’t use the scientific method on it because usually it is a matter of belief in the supernatural. It is, by its very nature, a thing of faith. Marxism is based in history, and philosophy. Like all political science, it can be tested, it can be tried, and we can reason as to whether any aspect of it agrees with logic. The problem is that political science is rather tough to test, there are many variables, and people often have ulterior motives behind the testing of it. Because of this, of course people disagree, they say they come to different solutions. So how do you know what your political stance should be? That’s something you have to figure out for yourself. You do that by educating yourself about different points of view, and weigh the facts.
Now, how do we know that Marxism is based in science? We know because it’s still being tested. We can look at Marx’s many ideas and hypothesis, and see if it matches up with real conditions. For instance, the Labor Theory of Value. This states that value originates with labor, and of course also from natural resources (which also must be extracted by means of labor).
Is that so? What do you think? I think he was right. The Apple corporation wouldn’t be making any money at all if it weren’t for the workers who made the products. We start with something simple like that, and we move on beyond it, reading, thinking, and analyzing what we read and hear and see. We pay attention to current events, and social conditions, and we see if that is matching up with any given ideology. I personally think that Marx was largely correct in his analysis of capital, labor and political economy. We humans are categorized by our status in the means of production, and in societal hierarchy.
Marxism, like any other political position is just that, a political opinion. However, some certain areas of the political spectrum are very keen to tie in their religious belief with their political point of view. The biggest offender of this error is the religious right (at least that’s the case in the U.S.)
Religion has been used as a tool of politics for a long time. It defines social strata, like Shia and Sunni, or it defines certain cultures like Shinto or the animist religions of Native Americans. Sometimes, as in the U.S. there arises religious groups who want to push their agenda, (and consequentially) their religion on the American people. They think that because they don’t approve of abortion that they have the right, and duty in fact, to impose that on everyone. They think that they can make their religion a relpacement for politics, as they believe that their god, or religion must become the law of the land. This is very dangerous. Religion and politics are two things that should be kept as separate as possible. Government should be secular, as to facilitate equality between citizens of all religious traditions, as well as the non-religious. Religion run countries don’t feel the need for such tolerance though. In Saudi Arabia, Muslims have more rights than members of other religions, in fact in some Muslim countries blaspheming Allah can make you lose your head in a hurry, literally. In the U.S. the religious right is very strong, and make no bones about trying to make the U.S. into a theocracy. Bush constantly made references to Christianity, even at times when it was neither necessary, or even well advised. Those who argue that Marxism is a religion are trying to put it on the same level, the same page if you will, as Christianity, or Islam etc. The reason that they do this is because they think that if only they can pit all Christians against the Marxists, they might have a chance at diminishing their influence or power. This doesn’t work, because rational, reasoning people can see the difference between a political point of view, or philosophy, and a religious belief system. Marxism is the ideology of equality of the masses, of democracy, and they can’t have that. They need unyielding, unwavering belief in their religion, and the politics they want to enforce on everyone, even members of the same religion that disagree with the religious right. Now some may ask, doesn’t Marxism require that people accept it when it comes to power, when it becomes the prevailing system of government or economics? Of course, but so does capitalism. You can’t just decide that no property exists in the US and go take someone’s stuff, or burn down their house; well, you can but you’ll be arrested for it. Capitalism is just as stringent about enforcing it’s system on the people as any other system, socialistic or otherwise. The difference is who the systems are protecting. In the US we have the police guard the wealthy investment bankers, and CEOs, while American workers get sold down the river, working their lives away for far, far less than a working wage, all the while they make their boss a rich rich man. Of course they’ll throw you a carrot, right out in front of you, promising that if you just work hard enough that you too can be one of the top portion of wealth in America. Don’t buy it, because it’s most likely never going to happen. Most people spend their whole lives working hard, and usually die with very little. The world has the natural resources, we have the intelligence to create, innovate and produce the things we want or need. What really does the capitalist do? He simply extracts most of the value from the workers, knowing that they have no choice to work, because the only alternative is being homeless, or starving to death. More and more people are waking up, and realizing that capitalism is failing, and it’s failing because of the contradictions inherent to capitalism. You finally come to the point where you realize that a very tiny teensy part of the population has “won” the game of capitalism. But then where are the workers to buy products that are being sold? As more and more people become impoverished (and yes, it is happening now) they will buy less and less. We’re already seeing this scenario play out, Marx saw this one pretty well. (and no, I don’t think Marx had any gifts of clairvoyance)
Of course Marxism is not a religion, and it is absurd to say that it is. Religion however does try to capture and dominate politics, largely not to the benefit of most of the population. We don’t need religion. We need a society built for worker, with democracy, social justice, secularist humanism, and socialism for all. We, with science will prevail against the forces of religious oppression, and we can, through human effort, and good science, make the world a better place, even if only a little at a time. Thanks for reading.