Marx, Marxism, and Religion. A Brief Analysis of Interactions through Arguments, Semantics, and Context Awareness

Textbook, 2015

28 Pages


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Methodology

Chapter 3: Literature Research

Chapter 4: Analysis

Chapter 5: Conclusion

List of References

Chapter 1: Introduction

Without the fear of contradicting anyone, it can generally be held that academicians worldwide describe Karl Marx as an atheist. This point needs not to be challenged or scrutinised in great depths. The reason is that Marx’s personal mentality or intellectual bending does not profoundly affect the making of Marxism and its applications to the real world. The first country to embrace scientific socialism along Marxist lines came into existence in the form of erstwhile Soviet Union. The Soviet Union or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a country that began taking shape in the year 1917. However, Marx had died rather long ago, in the year 1883. So any attempt to find a direct, personalised connection between Marx and USSR is nothing but academically irrelevant. This irrelevance is further bulged when it is considered that Marx was especially interested in the affairs of Germany. According to Marx, only well-developed capitalist economies were expected to be at the verge of a socialist revolution (Desai 2004). However, when the Bolsheviks of a backward capitalist country like Russia managed to establish the USSR, Marx’s predictions came under close scrutiny by the contemporary thinkers (Desai 2004). In the current research work, the economic importance of this development is not the main focus area. The main focus area is Marxism and religion. The main point of contention is not what Marx thought about religion. Overwhelming majority of scholars think that Marx was a decided atheist. However, the main point of contention is what Marxists should actually do while handling religion.

Religion, even in its simplest form, has the capability of manifesting as both personalised and socially dispersed phenomena. While exploring a possible alternative to capitalism, Marxist and pro-Marxist leaders contemplated on various societal issues, which included religion and theology as well (Desai 2004; Lobkowicz 1964). So it is a complex yet necessary pursuit to understand how Marxism needs religion to be handled. If Marxism were completely antireligious, then most of the world’s socialist governments would not have allowed religious freedom (at least officially). For example, even the Soviet Constitution did never authorise the state to destroy religion or persecute people on religious grounds (Ginsburgs 1982). This kind of approach cannot be simplified just on the basis of a longing for internationalism. In contrast, at least the official practice of respecting religion must be understood as consequential to Marx’s teachings and views. Criticising religion and persecuting religious elements are completely two different things. A leader may criticise religion but avoid persecution on religious grounds. A leader may also cling to one religion or ideology and start persecuting anybody who resents. Such leadership tasks and activities must be attributed to contextual political conditions. Further in this kind of political circumstances, underlying ideology is greatly immune from real world practices, especially when the ideology does not directly attack an opposing ideology. For example, Nazi and Semitic ideologies are completely counterpoised. Nazism is founded on the basis of an anti-Semitic rhetoric. However, communism has also been more or less founded on the basis of an anti-capitalist rhetoric. Nevertheless, capitalism cannot be regarded synonymous as religion. So how Marx, as a leader, might have handled social issues around religion and theology? The most regrettable truth in this context is that Marx never held any public office himself. And most of the socio-political establishments, which espoused Marxism, always maintained an officially neutral tone of avoidance with regard to religious involvements, beliefs, movements, and/or practices. So it is indeed very important to semantically analyse what exactly Marx thought and wrote about religion in the context of social, economic, and political change. Until and unless there is a sufficient degree of context awareness with regard to the various writings and analyses done by Marx, it is unsafe and academically premature to label Marxism, in general, and Marxist sociology, in particular, as antireligious conception.

1.1 Thesis Statement

Philosophy and views of Karl Marx are devoid of religion rather than opposed to religion. Marxist rhetoric is not inherently counterpoised with respect to religion and/or spirituality.

Chapter 2: Methodology

The main thrust of this research methodology is to examine two kinds of resources. First, secondary resources like journal articles, books, reports, etc. will be explored extensively. Second, critical primary resource will be examined. The research is thus based on literature review. This effort is in line with qualitative research across distributed political and scholarly resources. These resources cover a very wide range of subtopics including those pertaining to politics, political economy, sociology, theology, and history. Library research and Internet research are the two main pillars of this literature research.

However, the author thinks that the standard rules for literature research must be changed to suite the special needs of the main topic under discussion. In this research work, the author actually aims at examining a thesis statement. The thesis, in this particular context, gives rise to two possibilities. Each possibility set has been utilised as an argument. Some scholars have furnished a certain view, while the other authors have furnished an opposite view. In an attempt to focus on, utilise, and explain both the contrasting views, the author takes up an argumentative approach. The first two sections of the literature research itself have been divided in this way. In the first part of this literature research portion, resources supporting one particular view are presented. In the second part, resources pertaining to its counterview are presented. This is the reason why this literature research appears to be appropriately described as an argumentative literature research, where the scholarly resources and texts have themselves been divided into two distinct and contrasting argumentative categories. The author holds that this kind of approach eliminates the necessity of developing themes. Without developing themes, arguments are straightforwardly handled and scholarly resources are sorted accordingly.

The examination of a primary resource is the main body of the analysis. This analysis will follow the literature research. The primary resource is an original text. In the current research work, this necessary primary resource is the introductory note to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which was written by Marx (1844) himself. This primary resource is an important textual matter, translated by Blunden and Carmody. Certain words and phrases have been captured from this textual matter. Next, these words and phases are correlated with the other words and phrases present in the paragraphs. In doing this, the context appears to be becoming clearer. The author has attempted to conduct a deep analysis of issues and how they are semantically denoted by words and phrases. According to Thomason (2012, paragraph 2):

“Semantics is the study of the meaning of linguistic expressions. The language can be a natural language, such as English or Navajo, or an artificial language, like a computer programming language. Meaning in natural languages is mainly studied by linguists. In fact, semantics is one of the main branches of contemporary linguistics.”

Although the original work of Marx (1844) is in German language, its English version has been utilised for implementing semantics and acquire more context awareness inside a simple and brief research framework.

The main drawback of this research design is that it is highly original. Argumentative literature research is a relatively new idea. Also, examination of primary resources for finding out semantic correlations is another new idea. The semantic correlations must be mapped onto appropriate words and phrases. In this way, a tenuous attempt is made for clarifying the context of what the writer (in this case, Karl Marx) actually wanted to say or teach. And at this point, linguistic barrier is the most serious obstacle. While the primary resource is available in English, the original German manuscript or text has not been used. Therefore, creation of accurate context awareness may not have been achieved.

Chapter 3: Literature Research

3.1 Arguments to prove Marx was completely opposed to religion

Since the late 19th century, scholars from different schools of thought have described Marx as vehemently opposed to all forms of religion almost to the extent of being antireligious rather than irreligious. For example, McKenna (1997, p. 9) has written the following words:

“But Marx opposed religion for more specific reasons. In his view, religion made men and women passive and submissive. It led them to wait for other-worldly solutions of social problems instead of actively seeking this-worldly answers.”

Further in this context, McKenna (1997) thinks that Marx’s opposition to religion was less politically motivated and more philosophically grounded. Per se, McKenna (1997, p. 65) writes:

“Karl Marx, as a materialist and an atheist, strongly attacked all religion. He denied, in effect, any objective way of determining what was morally good and bad. Lenin went further than Marx. He urged positive action to eradicate religious thinking and to end the churches’ influence, and introduced in the Soviet Union the antireligious program which became standard for other Marxist-Leninist regimes. His concept of revolution, moreover, gave rise to a morality in which actions were regarded as good or bad only insofar as they helped or hindered the revolution.”

Marx’s complete disregard for religion manifests in Schuller’s (1974) works as well. According to Schuller (1974), Marx was a decided atheist and overly materialist in the sense that he had a very strong leaning and strict admiration for scientific enquiry. The resultant of this attitude manifested as an inevitable opposition to all kinds and all forms of religion ranging from Christianity to Buddhism (Jain 2009; Schuller 1974).

Dupre (1984) stated that religion, in Marx’s philosophy, was actually a force of alienation. According to Marx, as Dupre (1984) states, religion diverted the mental approach of ordinary people from worldly to unworldly or otherworldly ways. By creating illusions or with the help of dogmatic scriptures, religion enforced the rights of the ruling class and kept the masses wondering about their destiny. In this way, people, and especially the working class, would gradually detach themselves from worldly and societal affairs. Marx thought that this extensive psycho-social development due to religious institutions effectively weakened the ideology behind and the scope for any socialist upheaval whatsoever (Dupre 1984).

Furthermore, Marx’s legacy has rarely been considered in a separate context. Most of Marxist rhetoric has been either derived from the works of Lenin or developed with the help of similar left wing perspectives. Lenin, no doubt, was himself an outspoken and determined critic of religion (Lenin 1905). In this milieu, Marxism has always been associated with the thoughts and views of other communist and/or socialist leaders. This is perhaps the reason that although Vladimir Lenin did never receive any direct counselling, training, or communication from Marx, this great Soviet leader is invariably regarded as one of the most important and strongest propagators of Marxist thought. According to Shandro (1995), Lenin claimed that “socialist consciousness must be imported into the spontaneous working-class movement from without;” and this claim by Lenin does not contradict the basics of Marxism. Shandro (1995, p. 268) further states:

“Sense can be made of Lenin’s claim only in light of the distinctive logic of his mode of political analysis and, once seen in this light, this claim can be understood as a necessary prerequisite for Marxist political actors to theorise their situation within the complexity of the class struggle and hence to learn from the struggles of the working class.”

So if Lenin went farther than Marx in opposing religion, scholars like Shandro (1995) and Schuller (1974) have argued that practical implementation of Marx’s ideas might have required such a severe antireligious approach as formulated by Lenin. This point of view is made stronger by McKown (1975), who places Lenin in the same context as Marx along with Engels and Kautsky. In his works, McKown (1975) has tried to show that the antireligious nature of communism (based on Marxism or Marxism-Leninism) is basically due to the Marxist critique of religious thought and institutions.

Finally, this section of the literature research shows that a number of reputed scholars and political leaders have portrayed Marx as vehemently opposed to religion.

3.2 Arguments to prove Marx was not antireligious

According to the both late 20th century scholars like Schuller (1995) and early 20th century politicians like Lenin (1905), almost at a staggering difference of 90 years, Marx has been regarded as strongly opposed to religion. Consequently, workers’ movement and religious institutions are widely regarded as counterpoised even today (Jain 2009). However, several scholars have shown a different kind of deliberation about Marx. For example, Lobkowicz (1964) has explicitly claimed that Marx’s understanding of religion was highly complex. According to Jeannot (1990), Marx did make use of religious metaphors in his writings, and according to McKenna (1997, p. 65), “Lenin went further than Marx” in opposing religion and religious institutions simultaneously. An in-depth analysis on Marx reveals the following:

“Marx, of course, was an atheist. And we may add that this atheism is neither a purely methodological one (in the sense in which modern science, for example, might be called “methodologically atheist” insofar as it disregards God as a possible explanatory factor); nor merely a sceptical one (in the sense in which some modern philosophers maintained that they would have granted God’s existence if only their philosophical reflection were to force them to do so).” (Lobkowicz 1964, p. 319)


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Marx, Marxism, and Religion. A Brief Analysis of Interactions through Arguments, Semantics, and Context Awareness
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Arghya Ray (Author), 2015, Marx, Marxism, and Religion. A Brief Analysis of Interactions through Arguments, Semantics, and Context Awareness, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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