The Marxist Critique of Religion: The Charge that Marxism is a Religion

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Paul N. Siegel
The Meek and the Militant 

Chapter 3
Marxism and Religion  
Compared

The Charge that Marxism is a Religion

One religious response to Marxism has been that Marxism itself is a religion. By saying this, religionists seek to blunt Marxism’s attack on religion with a ‘you’re another’ argument: if religious belief is intellectually reprehensible, then you’re a sinner too! It is also a charge made by secular liberals who would dismiss Marxism as being as obsolete for an educated man as religion is.

This description of Marxism, however, far from being sophisticated modern understanding, is merely an updating of the comment on atheism by the Parisian intellectuals of the 1840s, who, says Engels, ‘could conceive a man without religion only as a monster, and used to say to us: ‘Donc, l’atheisme c’est votre religion!’ (On Religion, p. 239). To say that atheism is itself a religion is manifestly a mere playing with words. In the sense of the popularly accepted use of ‘religion’ as a belief in a God or gods – or in the broader definition of religion by the anthropologist Tylor that religion is ‘a belief in spirits’ – atheism is of course a denial of religion. The paradox is achieved by implying another definition of religion such as ‘coherent world outlook’. But this is to disregard the atheist claim that religion is a world outlook that makes use of fantasy.

Something else is implied by those who say that Marxism is really a religion: that Marxism is, as it charges religion with being, a self-deception and a dogma to be accepted on faith and on authority. Although the acceptance of authority as proof without verification is especially characteristic of religion and is most widely practised where religion dominates the thought of the time, it is, to be sure, not confined to religion. For instance, the classical authority of Galen was accepted by medieval medicine without an attempt to prove or disprove by experimentation what he had to say. It may be well, therefore, to examine the charge that Marxism is a religion more closely, especially since it is given colour by the Stalinist perversion of Marxism. We can do so conveniently by examining the comments of Niebuhr, one of the chief exponents of this view of Marxism, in his introduction to Marx and Engels on Religion[1]

As proof for his assertion that Marx in his fervour and dogmatism was unwittingly transformed from ‘an empirical observer into a religious prophet’, Niebuhr quotes from Marx’s youthful The Holy Family:

There is no need of any great penetration to see from the teaching of materialism on the original goodness and equal intellectual endowment of men, the omnipotence of experience, habit, and education, and the influence of environment on man, the great significance of industry, the justification of enjoyment, etc., how necessarily materialism is connected with communism and socialism.

‘Marx … pretends to draw self-evident deductions,’ Niebuhr comments

from the mere presupposition of metaphysical materialism … One can only regard this passage, and similar passages, as the ladders on which the empirical critic of the status quo climbed up to the heaven and haven of a new world religion… Marx, as an empiricist, would have been just another learned man. As an apocalyptic dogmatist, he became the founder of a new religion, whose writing would be quoted as parts of a new sacred canon.

Niebuhr’s comment is based on an egregious misreading of the text. Marx is not concerned with stating ‘all the propositions, dear to a revolutionary and apocalyptic idealist’ (p.xi) as if they were ‘self-evident deductions from his materialistic philosophy and therefore needed no proof. He is stating the propositions held by the French materialistic social philosophers such as Condillac and Helvetius and asserting that they led historically to the Utopian socialism of Robert Owen and others. He introduces the passage quoted by Niebuhr with the statement that ‘the other branch of French materialism [the branch of Condillac and Helvetius that had its origin in Locke as opposed to the branch that had its origin in Descartes and led to natural science] leads direct to socialism and communism’ [2] and states immediately after the passage in question: ‘This and similar propositions are to be found almost literally even in the oldest French materialists. This is not the place to assess them’ (On Religion, pp.x-xi).

It is evident from the statement ‘This is not the place to assess them’ that Marx is not presenting these propositions as his own and does not necessarily agree with them. As a matter of fact, in his Theses on Feuerbach, contained in the book which Niebuhr is introducing, Marx makes clear his differences with them:

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating. Hence, this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, of which one is superior to society (in Robert Owen, for example). The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice! (p.70)

In short, the older non-dialectical materialism did not see the historical process in which people collectively seek to answer social questions only when these questions are thrust upon them. In this historical process human activity is both the product of social development and a cause of social development. In transforming its social environment, humanity transforms itself, but its transformation of society is limited by historical conditions, in the first place the level and power of the productive forces. Superior individuals cannot rise so high above their society as to make it realize an ideal plan of their devising.

Just as Niebuhr is mistaken in assigning the beliefs of the French materialists to Marx, so is he mistaken in calling him an empiricist who gave up his empiricism to construct a religious dogma. Empiricism as a philosophical outlook is opposed to rationalism, setting experience up against reason as the source of knowledge. Experience, thought Marx and Engels, is the test of theory, but it is not the sole source of knowledge. The ‘empirical, inductive method, exalting mere experience,’ says Engels (p.175), again in a selection in the book which Niebuhr is introducing, ‘treats thought with sovereign disdain and really has gone to the furthest extreme in emptiness of thought.’ ‘It is not the extravagant theorising of the philosophy of nature’ which is ‘the surest path from natural science to mysticism’ but ‘the shallowest empiricism that spurns all theory and distrusts all thought’ (p.186).

As George Novack phrases it,

The Marxist theory of knowledge accepted … the empirical contention that all the contents of knowledge are derived from sense experience and the rationalist counterclaim that its forms were provided by the understanding … The two factors, each of which had been the basis for independent and antagonistic philosophies, were transformed into interrelated aspects of a single process … Experience gave birth to reflection whose results fructified and directed further experience. This conceptually enriched experience in turn corrected, tested, and amplified the results of reasoning – and so on, in a never ending spiral. [3]

Experience and reason, induction and deduction, engage in a constant interaction, engendering the dialectic of human thought that reflects the dialectic of nature and society.

Not only does Niebuhr see Marx as an empiricist who unconsciously departed from empiricism; he also sees him as an anti-Hegelian who is unconsciously entrammeled in Hegel’s dialectical mode of thought: ‘the anti-Hegelian materialist speaks in terms of Hegelian dialectic to project a materialistic version of an even more traditional religious apocalypse (p.xiii). But Marx was very conscious of his indebtedness to Hegel and ‘openly avowed’ himself to be ‘the pupil of that mighty thinker’. At the same time he differentiated his dialectic from that of Hegel:

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel … the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea’. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought. . . The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell. (Reader, pp.98-9)

Despite Marx’s claim to have found and salvaged the rational kernel within the shell of Hegel’s mysticism, his dialecticism has often been attacked as sheer Hegelian mumbo-jumbo. Dühring, the contemporary of Marx and Engels whose name continues to live only because Engels devoted a book to replying to him, said of Marx’s discussion of the factors leading to capitalism’s destruction: ‘Hegel’s first negation is the idea of the fall from grace, which is taken from catechism, and his second is the idea of a higher unity leading to redemption. The logic of facts can hardly be based on this nonsensical analogy borrowed from the religious sphere.’

To this Engels replied that ‘it is … a pure distortion of the facts by Herr Dühring, when he declares that … Marx wants anyone to allow himself to be convinced of the necessity of the common ownership of land and capital … on the basis of the negation of the negation.’ [4] The passage whose Hegelian terminology gave offence to Dühring was merely the summation of Marx’s previous close analysis of capitalism’s origin and development and of the forces within that will destroy it, as capitalism had destroyed the feudalistic mode of production. It is incumbent upon someone who disagrees with Marx to seek to refute that analysis, not to dismiss the summation of it with the statement that it is ‘based’ on a ‘nonsensical analogy borrowed from the religious sphere’, an analogy which the critic himself has conjured up.

Dialectics is not a magical incantation that has only to be uttered to produce an irrefutable truth. By using what Marx called scornfully ‘wooden trichotomies,’ [5] one can ‘prove’ anything – that is to say, nothing – arriving at any ‘synthesis’ one wishes by choosing the right ‘thesis’ and ‘antithesis’. But the same is true of the syllogism. For instance, in the syllogism ‘All clergymen are persons of towering intellect; the Reverend Dimwit is a clergyman; therefore, the Reverend Dimwit is a person of towering intellect’, the conclusion follows from the premises, but that does not make it correct. The laws of logic, whether those of Aristotelian or of dialectical logic, are of little use if concrete reality is disregarded. Nevertheless, although no systems of logic are foolproof, training in dialectical thinking, like training in Aristotelian logic, over which it is a great advance, is of value. Aristotelian logic thinks in fixed categories: if all A is B and all B is C, then all A is C. But dialectics observes A, B, and C as they are in the process of changing so that it may cease to be true that all A are B or that all B are C.

For this reason dialectical thinking requires a higher degree of concreteness and comes closer to approaching the reality which is in a constant state of flux. Although conscious study is of value, dialectical thinking may, as is true of Aristotelian logic, be used by those who have not studied it: any cook knows that the addition of salt beyond a given point makes a decided qualitative difference. As Engels put it, ‘Men thought dialectically long before they knew what dialectics was, just as they spoke prose long before the term prose existed’ (Reader, p.137).

Far from being mere mumbo-jumbo, dialectical materialism, says the historian of science Loren R. Graham, has produced among the scientists in the Soviet Union a philosophy of science that ‘is an impressive intellectual achievement’ and ‘has no competitors among modern systems of thought’. They have been able to produce this achievement, he says, ‘in sharp contrast to other Soviet intellectual efforts’, because the repressive regime had for its own purposes to relax its controls over science after the interference with it under Stalin, with the consequence that the best minds went into scientific fields and because the esoteric character of their discussion as they sought to grapple with the implications of new scientific theories such as quantum theory and relativity further served as a defence against censorship. Although dialectical materialism ‘would never predict the result of a specific experiment’ Graham is convinced that ‘in certain cases’ dialectical materialism helped scientists ‘to arrive at views that won them international recognition among their foreign colleagues’. [6] It helped them in arriving at these views by the orientation it gave them.

The theories at which these scientists arrived are not to be refuted by characterizing the scientists as dogmatists, as Niebuhr characterizes Marx. They can only be refuted by examining their scientific reasoning and observing how well they stand the test of experience. So too with Marx’s theory of proletarian revolution. Critics like Niebuhr have spoken of it disparagingly as an apocalyptic dogma. But is not the 20th century indeed the epoch of wars and revolutions that Lenin characterized it as being? At the beginning of the century bourgeois thinkers were imbued with the idea of uninterrupted progress within the existing social system. Revolutionary Marxists warned of impending catastrophes. Which were correct? Could anyone have envisaged more cataclysmic happenings than the enormous bloodshed of two world wars, the ravages of the great depression, the extermination programme of fascism, the threat of nuclear annihilation?

But, the Niebuhrs say, Marx spoke of the inevitability of socialism. Socialism has not triumphed in the advanced capitalist countries, as he predicted. Are not the Marxists like the Christians, who have waited for two millennia for the Second Coming? If the Christians are waiting for Godot, are not the Marxists waiting for Lefty?

In reply, it may be said that ‘Lefty’ (social revolution) did come – in Russia, China, Cuba, Yugoslavia, and other countries. That the revolution was delayed in advanced capitalist countries and came first to backward countries created unforeseen difficulties. But Marxism, far from being the ‘immutable dogma’ that Niebuhr says it is (p.viii), realizes more than any other doctrine that theory has to be constantly corrected to take account of a changing reality. ‘We do not in any way,’ said Lenin, ‘regard Marx’s theory as something final and inviolable, we are convinced, on the contrary, that it only laid the cornerstone of the science which socialists must push further in all directions, if they do not wish to be left behind by life.’ [7]

So too Trotsky wrote on the occasion of the ninetieth anniversary of The Communist Manifesto that, although no other book can ‘even distantly be compared with the Communist Manifesto,’ this

does not imply that, after ninety years of unprecedented development of productive forces and vast social struggles, the Manifesto needs neither corrections nor additions … Revolutionary thought has nothing in common with idol worship. Programs and prognoses are tested and corrected in the light of experience, which is the supreme criterion of reason. The Manifesto, too, requires corrections and additions. However, as is evidenced by historical experience itself, these corrections and additions can be successfully made only by proceeding in accord with the method which forms the basis of the Manifesto itself. [8]

‘Revolutionary thought has nothing in common with idol worship.’ Marxism has no sacred books to be consulted as Nostradamus or the Bible are consulted for predictions of what will happen.

Prognosis outlines only the definite and ascertainable trends of the development. But along with these trends a different order of forces and tendencies operate, which at a certain moment begin to predominate. All those who seek exact predictions of concrete events should consult the astrologists. Marxist prognosis aids only in orientation. [9]

The great Marxist theoreticians, observing when a dialectical change, ‘a different order of forces and tendencies’, has made itself manifest, have applied Marxist method to develop Marxist doctrine: witness Lenin’s theory of imperialism and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. The consequence has been that, although Marxists have made many mistakes, the best of them have been far better oriented than bourgeois observers, who have pooh-poohed Marxism in ‘good times’, when they have declared that capitalism has solved its problems, and have warned against the dangers of Marxism in ‘bad times’. It may also be said that revolutionary Marxists do not wait for ‘Lefty’. They believe, as Marx said, that the liberation of the proletariat is the task of the proletariat itself, not that of a messiah who will appear at some future date. They seek to educate the working class in the course of its struggle concerning the need for a new social order that will be built by it in virtue of its position in capitalism. When Marx spoke of the inevitability of socialism, he did not mean that it will come as a gift from above but that, since one’s outlook on life is shaped by material conditions, the working class will eventually be driven by the conditions of capitalism in decline to search for and find the way to build a new society through its abolition. Even if one cannot make exact predictions of concrete events, there is every reason to hold to this general, long-range perspective, which provides the guidelines for strategic orientation. Yet one must also add that Engels spoke of the choice for humanity as being ‘socialism or barbarism’. It must be admitted that the immense destruction capable of being wrought by existing nuclear weapons makes the possibility of barbarism far more real that it was in Engels’ day if the pressing problems of human society are not soon solved. Those who would dismiss Engels’ words as ‘apocalyptic dogma’ are blinding themselves to reality.
 

Marxism vs. Stalinist Scholasticism

Niebuhr is entirely wrong when he says that the ‘dogmatic atrophy’ of Marxism is ‘not a corruption’ of it. He is, however, right when he speaks of the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin having been made into a ‘sacred canon’ by the ‘priest-kings’ (p.xiv) of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. But this is a perversion of Marxism, not a continuation of it. Just as it is foreign to the spirit of Marxism, which regards the entire universe as being in the process of change, to consider itself to be an ‘immutable dogma’, so it is foreign to it to engage in a scholastic citation of authority.

Lenin described how Marx had been canonized by the Social-Democrats, who in doing so robbed him of his revolutionary essence. After the death of great revolutionists, he wrote,

attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to surround their names with a certain halo for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time emasculating the essence of the revolutionary teaching, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it. [10]

Ironically, this is what happened to Lenin himself at the hands of the conservative Stalinist bureaucracy. Lenin, wrote Trotsky, ‘was “only” a man of genius, and nothing human was alien to him, therein included the capacity to make mistakes’. [11] Stalin, however, made Lenin out to be a god so that he himself might be proclaimed the son of god.

This perversion of Marxism can be best explained by the use of the Marxist method itself. ‘Just as original Christianity, as it was spreading into pagan countries,’ says Isaac Deutscher, Stalin’s Marxist biographer,

absorbed elements of pagan beliefs and rites and blended them with its own ideas, so now Marxism, the product of western European thought, was absorbing elements of the Byzantine tradition, so deeply ingrained in Russia, and of the Greek Orthodox style … The abstract tenets of Marxism could exist, in their purity, in the brains of intellectual revolutionaries, especially those who had lived as exiles in western Europe. Now, after the doctrine had really been transplanted to Russia and come to dominate the outlook of a great nation, it could not but, in its turn, assimilate itself to that nation’s spiritual climate, to its traditions, customs, and habits. [12]

The reaction to the revolution caused by the failure of other revolutions in Europe and the pressure of world imperialism upon a backward country produced a specially privileged bureaucracy, which revived the ‘traditions, customs, and habits’ that had been repressed by the revolution. The ‘deification of Stalin’, as Trotsky said, expressed this bureaucracy’s need of ‘an inviolable arbiter, a first consul if not an emperor’. [13] The reaction was aided greatly by the physical destruction in the 1930s of large numbers of revolutionists in whose brains the tenets of Marxism had existed.

Leninism was thus replaced by Stalinism.

It was perhaps natural that the triumvir [Stalin] who had spent his formative years in a Greek Orthodox seminary should become the foremost agent of that change … He presented Lenin’s doctrine, which was essentially sociological and experimental, as a series of rigid canons and flat strategic and tactical recipes for mankind’s salvation … He supported every contention of his with a quotation from Lenin, sometimes irrelevant and sometimes torn out of the context, in the same way that the medieval scholastic sought sanction for his speculations in the holy writ. [14]

In China, where the Communist party was educated in Stalinism, a similar deification of Mao took place. The masses of China were urged by Lin Biao, Mao’s heir-designate, in his introduction to Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the famous ‘little red book’ which became the New Testament in China, to ‘study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings, act according to his instructions and be his good fighters’ [15], as the masses had been urged by Paul to follow the teachings of Christ and to be his soldiers in the good fight. ‘In order really to master Mao Tse-tung’s thought,’ Lin added, ‘it is essential to study many of Chairman Mao’s basic concepts over and over again, and it is best to memorize important statements and study and apply them repeatedly. The newspapers should regularly carry quotations from Chairman Mao relevant to current issues for readers to study and apply.’ Lin himself, however, apparently did not memorize the statements of Mao sufficiently assiduously – or perhaps he mastered Mao’s thought all too well – for he is said by the regime to have been killed in a plane crash while seeking to escape China after having led an unsuccessful struggle against the Chairman.

It is worth contrasting the injunctions of Lin on the rote memorization of Mao with those of Lenin on learning about communism. If the study of communism, said Lenin, speaking to a congress of the Russian Young Communist League in 1920

consisted in imbibing what is contained in communist books and pamphlets, we might all too easily obtain communist text-jugglers or braggarts, and this would very often cause us harm and damage, because such people, having learned by rote what is contained in communist books and pamphlets would be incapable of combining this knowledge, and would be unable to act in the way communism really demands … It would be a mistake to think that it is enough to imbibe communist slogans, the conclusions of communist science, without acquiring the sum total of knowledge of which communism itself is a consequence … You can become a Communist only by enriching your mind with the knowledge of all the treasures created by mankind … You must not only assimilate this knowledge, you must assimilate it critically. (Reader, pp.42-4)

Paul urged the study of the sayings and parables of Christ, rejecting the study of the heathen philosophers, including the Platonists and the Stoics to whom early Christianity was indebted; the Maoists urged the study of ‘the little red book’, outlawing the study of Shakespeare, whom Marx read every year, and of Pushkin, who was Lenin’s favourite author. Not so Lenin.

The successors of Stalin and Mao, intent on further modernizing their countries, found that the primitive worship of Stalin and Mao did not suit their purposes. The rigid dogmas were too much of a dead weight in the drive to meet the new needs of their societies. As Deutscher said of the contradictory process taking place in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin, ‘Through the forcible modernization of the structure of society Stalinism had worked toward its own undoing and had prepared the ground for the return of classical Marxism.’ [16] A halting and hesitant reformation has taken place. If, however, the ‘cult of personality’ has been denounced and the era of infallible popes is gone, there remains in power an episcopate, with its own kind of modified authoritarianism and dogmatism, to be overthrown.
 

The Spirit of Marxism and that of Early Christianity

Although the dogmatism of religion and its reverence for authority are alien to Marxism, there is, as Engels observed, a significant resemblance between the spirit animating Marxist revolutionists and that animating the early Christians.

The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working-class movement … Both are persecuted and baited, their adherents are despised and made the objects of exclusive laws, the former as enemies of the human race, the latter as enemies of the state, enemies of religion, the family, social order. And in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it, they forge victoriously, irresistibly ahead. (On Religion, p.316)

This spirit is far different from the predominant spirit of modern Christianity. More than a century and a quarter ago, Thomas Carlyle bewailed the emptiness of feeling of his age. But, observed Engels, ‘This emptiness and shallowness, this “lack of soul”, this irreligion and this “atheism” have their basis in religion itself.’ ‘So long … as the belief in this distant phantom [God] is strong and living, so long does man in his roundabout way arrive at some kind of content.’ But, with the crumbling of religious belief, ‘hollowness and lack of content’ have become prevalent and ‘will continue so long as mankind does not understand that the Being which it has honoured as God, was his own not yet understood Being’ (Reader, pp.234-35). This has proved to be entirely true.

In the service of humanity, Marxists display the same fervour and self-sacrifice that the early Christians displayed in the service of God. Although humanity is a product of nature, humanity is the highest value for itself. As Marx said, ‘The criticism of religion ends in the teaching that man is the highest being for man, it ends, that is, with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is a debased, forsaken, contemptible being forced into servitude.’ [17]

So did the 21-year-old Trotsky write at the beginning of the 20th century, ‘If I were one of the celestial bodies, I would look with complete detachment upon this miserable ball of dust and dirt … But I am a man. World history which to you, dispassionate gobbler of science, to you, book-keeper of eternity, seems only a negligible moment in the balance of time, is to me everything! As long as I breathe, I shall fight for the future.’ The fighter for the future, he went on, often finds that he is subjected to a ‘collective Torquemada’, a Holy Inquisition intent on defending the sacred status quo. But, although he may be momentarily crushed, he rises again and ‘as passionate, as full of faith and as militant as ever, confidently knocks at the gate of history’. [18]

The word ‘faith’ here should not mislead us: it is not the same as religious faith. Religious faith has the sense of one of the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary’s definitions of ‘faith’: ‘firm or unquestioning belief in something for which there is no proof. The faith of which Trotsky speaks has the sense of another of the Webster’s definitions of the word: ‘something that is believed or adhered to, especially with strong conviction’. The religionist says ‘I believe because I accept the holiness of a book or the authoritativeness of a church’; the Marxist says ‘I believe and accept wholeheartedly this outlook on life because I am rationally convinced by it.’ It is true, however, that the revolutionary Marxist believed with the same strength of feeling and readiness for self-sacrifice as the early Christians. Almost forty years after the youthful Trotsky wrote his greeting to the 20th century, the Trotsky who had experienced titanic events, had become an outcast with a few followers rejected by most countries of the world after having been the leader of a great nation, and had seen his children die before him, the victims directly or indirectly of the blows levelled at him, while he himself had been subjected to a campaign of calumny unprecedented in its scope, wrote his testament in the belief that he might die shortly. He speaks in it of his ‘happiness’ in having been ‘a fighter for the cause of socialism’, of which he had said two years before, ‘to participate in this movement with open eyes and with an intense will – only this can give the highest moral satisfaction to a thinking being.’ [19]

If I were to begin all over again, I would … try to avoid making this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionary, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and consequently an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth … This faith in man and in his future gives me even now such power of resistance as cannot be given by any religion. [20]

Trotsky, to be sure, was a person of exceptional strength of character. But it remains true that most avowed Christians today do not have the inner strength that characterizes the revolutionary Marxist. As Trotsky himself wrote of the pre-war Bolsheviks, implicitly comparing them to the early Christians, who sustained martyrdom as their master had done at Calvary,

Whoever joined an organization knew that prison followed by exile awaited him within the next few months … The professional revolutionists believed what they taught. They could have had no other incentive for taking the road to Calvary. Solidarity under persecution was no empty word, and it was augmented by contempt for cowardice and desertion … The young men and young women who devoted themselves entirely to the revolutionary movement, without demanding anything in return, were not the worst representatives of their generation. The order of ‘professional revolutionists’ could not suffer by comparison with any other social group. [21]

To believe what one teaches and to act accordingly despite personal hardships – this is the source of great strength. It is a quality that seems so strange to many today that they regard the possessors of it as religious fanatics. But it does not make Marxism a religion.

 

Top of the page

Chapter 4

 

Notes

1. For a devastating critique of a recent book purporting to show that Marxism is a religion, James H. Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, see Peter Singer, Revolution and ReligionNew York Review of Books, 6 November 1980, pp. 51-4.

2. Writing in 1844, Marx is referring to a communism that antedates the scientific socialism he was shortly to enunciate in the Communist Manifesto. So Engels writes:

To our three social reformers [‘the three great Utopians’: St Simon, Fourier, and Owen, ‘who worked out his proposals ... in direct relation to French materialism’] the bourgeois world, based upon the principles of these [French materialist] philosophers, is quite as irrational and unjust and, therefore, finds its way to the dust hole quite as readily as feudalism and all the earlier stages of society. (Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, pp.70-71)

3. George Novack, Empiricism and Its Evolution: A Marxist View, (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), pp.83-4.

4. Quoted by Engels in Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, (New York: International Publishers, 1939), p.142.

5. Karl Marx, Selected Works, vol.1 (New York: International Publishers, n.d.), p.28.

6. Loren R. Graham, Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union, (New York: Knopf, 1972), pp.430, 6.

7. Quoted in preface to Marx, Selected Works, I, xviii.

8. The Age of Permanent Revolution; A Trotsky Anthology, ed. Isaac Deutscher, (New York: Dell 1964), p.290.

9. Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 4942), p.175.

10. V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), pp.9-10.

11. Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, (New York: Simon Jand Schuster, 1937), III, 355.

12. Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949), p.269.

13. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1937), p.277.

14. Deutscher, Stalin, pp.271-2.

15. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1966).

16. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky 1929-1940, (New York: Random House, 1963), p.521.

17. Quoted by George Novack, Humanism and Socialism (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), p.136.

18. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921, (New York: Random House, 1965), p.54.

19. Leon Trotsky, Their Morals and Ours, (New York: Merit Publishers, 1969), p.39.

20. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, pp.479-80.

21. Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence (New York: Stein and Day, 1967), p.54.

 

 

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