Historical Materialism and Religion: A New Theory


Historical materialism shows that religion, and organized religion in particular, has, in every epoch, acted in defense of the prevailing socioeconomic order. Therefore Lenin states, “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).

Let us analyze this quotation for a moment in the modern world. Is this true? In Latin America there developed in the spirit of the socialist revolutions that overtook the world in the 20th century, liberation theology. In Soviet Russia, after the revolution, there developed a “living church” that supported the ideals of socialism and communism in spite of the Bolsheviks ideological war on religion as such, it was a church that attempted to distance itself from the reactionary Russian Orthodox Church. There is the National Liberation Army of Columbia that ascribes to an interpretation of Marxism-Leninism through the lens of Liberation Theology. There is the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a militant political movement that ascribes to an Islamic variant of Marxism. There are countless progressive churches in the United States and abroad with a staunch anti-capitalist, pro-socialist programme. Can we therefore say that Lenin was correct in saying that “all modern religions and churches”, and “each and every religious organization” are “instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and befuddle the working class”? Not in the least. In this regard, history has proved Lenin wrong. And in this regard, we have to acknowledge the fact that religion will justify a socialist order if and when that order arises, but only insofar as the socialist order is not inherently atheistic or militantly atheistic in nature.

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