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The necessity of precise comprehension of Marxism - Leninism’s perspective on “fighting against religion” and “complete abolition of religion”

(LLCT) - When it comes to religion, Marxism - Leninism has sparked great concerns of worldwide scholars regardless of thought, ideology, and discipline. Despite being widely agreed and clarified by various supporters, the Marxist - Leninist viewpoint on religion is also denied partly or entirely by a number of scholars, parties, and forces. One of the arguments is that Marxism - Leninism has declared a fight against religion, and that its concept of "the abolition of religion" has been outdated and misguided right from the era of K.Marx and V.I.Lenin. The article is going to analyze and elaborate the argument of "the fight against religion" and "the abolition of religion" to comprehensively understand Marxism - Leninism’s viewpoint on religion as well as to rebut distortions separating the communists from the religious people.

Keywords: Marxism - Leninism, abolition of religion, anti-religion.

1. The fight against religion is not to abolish religion or to establish a society without religion but to radically emancipate the working class.

In Marxism - Leninism classics, including The Condition of the Working Class in England; Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle; The Peasant War in Germany; Ludwig Feuerbach and End of Classical German Philosophy; Anti-Dühring; Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity; The Holy Family; German Ideology; Socialism and Religion; The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion; Classes and Parties in Their Attitude to Religion and the Church; Idealistic Philosophers; The Parties in Philosophy and non-led Philosophers; Religious and Political Circles; Left-wing Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality, questions have been raised that every theories or revolution will finally reach the ultimate goal of complete emancipation of the working class from class, economic, politic and even mental oppression of which religion is one of the causes.

In the course of history, religion used to “abolish” ancient philosophy, politics, and jurisprudence to establish an exclusively intellectual Christian civilization and a merely-theological education. “In the hands of the clergy, politics and jurisprudence, much like all other sciences, remained mere branches of theology, and were treated according to the principles prevailing in the latter. The dogmas of the church were at the same time political axioms, and Bible quotations had the validity of law in every court... This supremacy of theology in the realm of intellectual activities was at the same time a logical consequence of the situation of the church as the most general force coordinating and sanctioning existing feudal domination”(1). In the time of Marx, the German state led by the Prussian king took full advantage of religion to oppose progressive political trends, exploiting religion as a hypnotic to lull people in delusions and patience with oppression so that they forget their struggles and that they had the rights to live as humans. In Russia, the Tsarist Russian state used the Orthodox-considered the national religion-to consolidate its authority. The then parties in Russia tried to heighten the religious needs of the people to make the masses be kept off the revolutionary struggle, and pay attention to religion to ignore economic, political, social problems at the time. In Europe, religious leaders became an important part of the bourgeoisie’s political system dominating the working class through the institutionalization of religion. For a long time, the Church exercised its dominating rights of “everything belongs to God” to judge those who did not share its views, even the political dynasty and kingdom could be judged “ex-communication” by the Church. The Western European states were under the comprehensive domination and control by the Roman Church. The emperors had to receive the Pope’s conferment to officially dominate their land. Therefore, they must support the pope not only with faith but also with economic and military power. As a result, the pope is considered the “king of kings” in Western Europe. The pope had not only theocratic power but also the supremacy. The Church’s lawmakers had put their faith above all to adopt regulations challenging other civil rights. Many of the Church’s decisions which were opposed to compulsory political ones over-impacted on the state institution.

Consequently, Marxist classics regarded religion as a “cangue” dampening people’s spirit in its halo which made them still feel free, happy in the unhappiness, equal in the inequality. Yet, those were just the happiness (or freedom) in an “imaginary paradise”. Equality (even before God) was not long lasting due to the fact that the primitive idea of equality had come to an end when the differences between clergies and believers were established by the Church. In general, religion soothed and consoled people by creating a “perfect heavenly kingdom” in which “believers always re-encounter what makes their life sweeter in a modified form”(2).

Thus, spiritualism, which is the enemy of humanism, must be exposed and criticized. Marx and Engels pointed out: “It is crucial to prevent German people, under any cost, from deceiving themselves and being submitted. It is necessary to exaggerate the existing oppression by attaching to it the awareness of being oppressed, to make the humiliation even more humiliating by publicizing it. It is vital to force the people to fear themselves in order to inject courage into them”(3). In the scheme of things, the classics of Marxism - Leninism have raised the issue of fighting “against religion”. However, anti-religion must be conceived as:

(i) Struggling against the mundane society and the state that produced and took advantage of religion, turned it into a spiritual tool to enslave the masses in a circle of ignorance and resignation as well as prevent them from “embarking on the adventures of political struggle against religion”(4).

Fighting religion is to free the masses from slavery and imprisonment by means of production created by themselves but opposing them as a strange and irreversible force. It is to liberate people from fear caused by religious “shadow” by creating an “ecstatic” scene right on this earth for them to free themselves from the expectation of extreme life in the afterlife. “The task of history after the truth of the afterlife has disappeared is to establish the truth of this world. After the divine imagination of human self-alienation has been exposed, philosophy plays an urgent role in facilitating history to unveil self-alienation in its non-divine images. Thus, heaven criticism turns into an earthly one, religious criticism turns into judicial one, and theological criticism turns into a political one”(5). Abolishing religion is to remove cases in need of “illusions”, to ask to give up delusions, to disengage decorative artificial flowers from chains with the view to picking real flowers. Criticism against religion is a potential form of criticism about miserable life allowing people to think, act, and formulate their reality.

(ii) Anti-religion is not a direct attack on religion or abolition of religion by decree to establish a non-religious society and prohibit all religious practices. Socialism still respects people’s freedom of religion and non-religion. “Everyone shall be totally free to follow his/her favorite religion or to not acknowledge any religion”(6). Both believers and non-believers are equal in rights, “any discrimination of interests among citizens following different religions and beliefs is completely intolerable”(7). Even, “in official documents, it is vital to remove even all references to a certain religion of citizens”(8). F.Engels once criticized “Herr Dühring, however, cannot wait until religion dies this, its natural, death. He proceeds in more deep-rooted fashion. He out-Bismarcks Bismarck; he decrees sharper May laws  not merely against Catholicism, but against all religion whatsoever; he incites his gendarmes of the future against religion, and thereby helps it to martyrdom and a prolonged lease of life”(9).

Marxism - Leninism also did not advocate the idea of abolishing religion by ridiculing, insulting, or struggling it superficially and impolitely. According to V.I.Lenin, the hugest and worst mistake of the Marxists is to misunderstand that educating Marxism could awaken the masses from their religious daydream. Marxism - Leninism also agrees that socialist societies must not abolish all equipment of spiritual delusion or all elements of worship and should not ban religion from “founding their own schools by their own means and teaching things”(10) that they consider being the truth even though that “truth” may be false or illusory.

(iii) Anti-religion is to fight against the “clouds of religion” aiming at protecting the materialist scientific worldview, “the modern proletariat takes it stance on socialism, which is the one bringing science into the struggle against religious clouds and keeping workers from believing in an afterlife by uniting them for the real struggle for a better reality”(11). Anti-religion is against the way religion uses violence and deception to force people to follow, V.I.Lenin emphasized “The social-democratic people do not agree with the views of Christianity ... But while I say that, I feel it is my duty to immediately clarify that the Democratic-Social Party fights for complete freedom of belief and we respect all religious sincere beliefs as long as people do not use violence and deception to spread that belief”(12).

(iv) Anti-religion is also due to the fact that religion has become a tool to disguise the ideas of class domination and exclusive possession of the ruling. Apart from religions in the primitive communist era, the later ones were somehow exploited, distorted and deformed by political forces to serve their own intentions and purposes. In general, once religion has state colors, it “forgets” its original “naive” beliefs which are full of democratic and revolutionary spirit. Lenin noted that “Every oppressive class needs two social functions to preserve their dominance:  the decapitator and the clergy. The decapitator must destruct the oppressed’s resistance and indignation. While the clergy must comfort the oppressed and map out the prospect for them”(13). There fore, the communists must unveil the connection between religious organizations and reactionary forces aiming at using religion to protect the dominant, poison the working class and confine people to ignorance, misery but they still feel happy.

All in all, the Marxist - Leninist argument of “fighting against religion” is very clear. However, critics of Marxism - Leninism have taken the ideological opposition between Marxism - Leninism and religion to distort the argument, to blame Marxism - Leninism for extreme outlooks of religion seeing only the limitations and negatives of religion. Such way of grasping Marxism - Leninism about religion is a superficial political prejudice, a leftist childish attitude, a “headless” ideological tendency.

2. Religion is only abolished when the foundation of social relations, institutions and phenomena creating people’s corrupted desire for religion is removed.

Marxism - Leninism reckoned that although religion has been existing in our society, and its “voice” has awakened millions of hearts, forced the Roman Empire to follow and humankind to worship, it is still a historical category, a social phenomenon, founded on certainly mundane bases. Therefore, it will also disappear when those bases are no longer available. Marxism - Leninism predicts the moment when religion perishes is:

(i) The relationships among humans and between humans and nature are obvious and reasonable. “Generally, the religious reflection of the real world can vanish only when human ties in daily life are presented apparently and consistently among people and between people and nature”(14).

(ii) Eliminating private ownership of production means regime and implementing ownership one (social ownership of the means of production). When society uses the means of production planned and people not only map out but also implement their plans by their will, religion or deities will disappear. People no longer seek for God to ask for what they are powerless in the real world. Religion will die naturally. F. Engels wrote: “Only by grasping all means of production and exploiting them in a planned manner does society liberate itself and all of its members from slavery. In which, they are currently imprisoned by means of production made by their own hands but oppose them as an irreversible foreign force. Therefore, when human plans are not only schemed but also conducted by themselves, the last alien power of religion, along with its religious reflection, will also vanish, for then there will be nothing to reflect ”(15).

(iii) Every significant turning point of history and social order will bring about enormous changes of religion. The difference between the currently dramatic transformation and one in the past is that humankind has finally solved the historical mystery. Consequently, instead of sanctifying these “outer” processes in reality under the “transcendental” form of a new religion, they will now drop all religions, “Once religious foundations are broken and the social forms inherited collapsed political institutions and national independence, their respective religion will definitely be destroyed”(16).There is always a guardian god in each nation, “the sphere of his/her management is not beyond the border of the nation that he/she must guarantee, and outside the border are other gods playing their exclusively managing role. All of them can maintain their existence in people’s imagination as long as the nation that created them is viable. When the nation collapses, so does the god”(17) and “Once the people cannot defend their independence and self-determination, the gods themselves break their necks”(18).

(iv) Religion will perish by the time human history turns into communism and the necessary economic basis (private ownership and exploitation) for formulating religion is completely abolished.

However, Marxism - Leninism also predicted that religion can exist in long term for the following reasons:

(i) Private property is not the only “corruptive” force resulting in the foundation and development of religion. Despite transforming the private ownership system into social/public property one, societies are not able to use the means of production plannedly, to fully grasp the laws of objectivity and heightening productivity at high level, to eliminate completely “corruptive” forces controlling people’s daily lives, to establish a self-governing social system and put it under self-control and self-plan, to master nature, society and people’s own lives. On account of the fact that the repercussion of traditional religion is still profound, the sources giving birth to religion remain accordingly, so does religion.

(ii) The conditions for religious abolishment do not self-appear or appear easily, even after destroying the capitalist institutions and the private property regime. It requires a natural, long-term and arduous process.

(iii) Religion can continue to exist as a direct and emotional form of relationships between humans and natural and social forces which are “strange” and “burdensome” to them but they do not know how to flee. Besides, religion is also highly adaptable under any circumstances. In ancient times, “Christianity recognized by the Roman Empire suited then-economic and political situation and its spirit”(19). In the Middle Ages, “Christianity adjusted on the base of the development of feudalism becoming the religion suitable for that regime, and had a feudal hierarchy accordingly. And when the urbanist came into existence, the Protestant heresy opposed to feudal Christianity”(20). Furthermore, “the religions submitted by the Roman Empire and dominated a huge part of 1800-year human civilization can not be deleted by declaring simply it meaningless created by liars”(21).

(iv) Religion both reflects real life, produced by reality and impacts back to reality, protesting against the misery of real life. It was the original Christian ideology that reflected the historical failure of the slaves who rebelled against the Roman Empire, especially after the catastrophic failure of the Spartan rebellion. Consequently, Christianity was born to indicate that if people cannot meet liberation aspirations in real world, they will find “liberation” in their divine world. Moreover, religion was also the spiritual driving force that promoted the formation of capitalist institutions in Europe, especially after the reform of Calvan Protestantism (France).

In short, Marxism - Leninism did not lay down advocacy for fighting against religion or destroying religion. K.Marx depicted religion as “the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”(22). The declarations “to Germany, criticism of religion has ended” and “criticism of religion is a potential form of criticism of the suffering life which region is its divine aura”(23) clearly show that Marxism - Leninism does not advocate destroying religion but opposing religious social actions that go against human interests and social progress. Abolishing religion is just removing the foundations of social relations, institutions and phenomena that formed people’s corrupted desire for religion to attempt to change the world. Criticizing Marxist-Leninist arguments on religion without considering specific economic, political and social contexts at that time and attaching to the literature and circumstances of the work to understand is unscrupulous, superficial, invalid and stupid political biased.

The application of the Marxist - Leninist view of religion towards the way to present and develop religions nowadays is still correct. After all, religion has given an ideal goal and a way to improve people’s lives, which is to have a place in “heaven”. Yet, people still choose a suitable position in the real world and accordingly improve their own life and society. Therefore, the spiritualism should be grateful to Marxism - Leninism because Marxism - Leninism brought the gods down to “the Earth” and raised humanity to a “divine” level that gives religion a chance to survive in the long run.



(1) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.7, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.476.

(2), (9), (15). K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.20, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2004, p.436, 439, 438-439.

(3), (5), (22), (23) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.1, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2002, p.574, 571, 570, 570.

(4) V.I.Lenin: Complete Works, vol.17, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2005, p.512.

(6), (7), (8), (11)V.I.Lenin: Complete Works, vol.12, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2005, p.171,171,171,170.

(10) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.22, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2004, p.350.

(12) V.I.Lenin: Complete Works, vol.15, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2005, p.183.

(13) V.I.Lenin: Complete Works, vol.26, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2005, p.293.

(14) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.23, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1993, p.126.

(16), (18), (21), K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.19, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2004, p.444, 444, 436.

(17), (19), (20), K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.21, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.457, 418, 446.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Do Lan Hien

Institute of Religion and Beliefs

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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