“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”
Peter is the minister of a small evangelical church, the majority of whose congregation comes from working-class slums. Nadia, a labour organizer, is a devout Muslim. I myself am a committed atheist. What do the three of us have in common? Other than having assumed names here, what we share is a faith in Marxism. How do we reconcile our religious faith – or lack thereof – with a materialist doctrine that rejects the existence of a divine being?
Whether one believes in God or not doesn’t change the fact that there is injustice in this world. Whether there is a heaven above or a hell below doesn’t change the fact that the majority of people are living a hellish life, and thus religiously seek heaven hereafter. I don’t believe in prayers, but as you read this line, millions of people are on their knees praying to keep their jobs, homes, or just to know when they’ll eat next. These material facts bind us together: an evangelical minister, a Muslim woman, and an unflinching atheist.
As a Marxist, I am a man of faith. What separates me from other people of faith is that while they believe in the inevitability of the coming of the messiah, we Marxists believe in the inevitability of socialism. While the former zealously prepares the masses for the eventual second coming by shepherding them to the house of God every week, Marxists prepare our working-class brothers and sisters by organizing them into unions and parties. They have mass prayers; we have general assemblies. In a lot of instances, mass prayers quickly turn into general assemblies as the people get tired of kneeling and praying.
It is heaven on earth that we seek; this is our faith. While Marxism as a philosophy provides us with a method to understand the world we’re living in, one needs a leap of faith to go from merely understanding to attempting to change the world. It’s easy to criticize capitalism and all its illnesses, but it’s another thing to take up the cause when the odds are against you.
Marxism is often likened to a religion – with Capital as its holy bible – and I think to a certain extent we stand guilty as charged. Capitalism has created a world full of want, material and spiritual. It crushes people. It leads people to a blind alley. Religion, then, becomes a source of solace in this world of want. Religion is a symptom of a society riddled with misery.
But Marxists do not clasp our hands together praying for a saviour from on high to save us. We don’t wait for that pie-in-the-sky. We clench our fists and rally our class brothers and sisters to be their own agents of change, with a faith so firm that millions of times over we have been lined up against the wall for our beliefs. Yet we’ll keep on believing until we’ve found that promised land and wrestle it – forcefully if need be – from the few who own it now. In that sense, there’s no contradiction in a preacher, a believer and a non-believer all embracing Marxism.