From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Loren Petrich)
Subject: Is Marxism a Secular Religion?
Date: 16 Feb 90 02:13:18 GMT
Many critics of Marxist theory have noticed many analogies
with various religions. This is even though Marxism is not a religion
in the conventional sense of the word -- it involves no deities or any
other such beings. But, as has been pointed out here,
Theravada/Hinayana Buddhism may not qualify as a religion by that
A side note: "Hinayana" means "lesser path" and "Mahayana"
means "greater path" in Sanskrit; the former prefer "Theravada" ("Way
of the Elders"). There is an analogy from Communism -- Lenin called
his faction of hard-liners "Bolsheviks" ("Majoritarian" in Russian),
while his opponents acquiesced in the name "Menshevik"
("Minoritarian"). The Bolsheviks were not always a "majority"; but
they ultimately corrected that situation by getting rid of the
Mensheviks, who ultimately found themselves exiled, jailed, or
I think Marxists would be very indignant at their theories
being called a religion; Marxism is supposedly scientific and
rationalistic, with no room for any form of irrationalism, and
certainly not what Marx had called "the opium of the people."
Marx got his philosophical ideas from Hegel, who taught the
method of the Dialectic. If you start out with a partial concept "the
thesis", and get to work on it, it will turn into its opposite, "the
antithesis", and the two will ultimately combine to form the
"synthesis". The ultimate result -- the Absolute Idea, which,
according to Bertrand Russell, is simply pure thought thinking about
pure thought -- the only reality there is. For some strange reason,
Hegel believed that human history follows the Dialectic. China ==
Being because Hegel only knew that it _was_, and India == Nothing
because Hegel was only aware that Buddhists believe in Nirvana. The
Prussian State, for which Hegel was the "official philosopher" had
gotten a long way to the Absolute Idea.
Marx took this fanciful theory of history up and applied it to
his concerns about the exploitation of workers by capitalists. He
proposed a dialectic of history that went: Feudalism --> Capitalism
--> Communism, where everybody would be thoroughly unselfish and
nobody would exploit anybody, and everybody would presumably live
happily ever after. Throughout most of his works, he claimed that the
overthrow of the capitalists by united workers would be an
inevitability, a result of the dialectic laws of historical necessity;
but in places, he gives the game away by exhorting people to
revolution -- "Workers of the world, unite!" As Bertrand Russell
points out, his cosmic optimism was one that only a belief in a
beneficient Providence could justify -- it was sort of like the belief
that, if you are good, you will go to Heaven, and if you are bad, you
will go to Hell. Russell provided a dictionary for understanding
Marxism in _A History of Western Philosophy_; in which he identified
(for example) Yahweh with Dialectical Materialism, Hell with the
Punishment of the Capitalists, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
with the emergence of True Communism.
His followers, notably Lenin, made further doctrinal
innovations. Lenin proposed -- and imposed -- a "dictatorship of the
proletariat" -- the party of the workers would take firm control until
such time as the state could wither away. Opposition to it would be
wrong, since, after all, it is on the side of Right, not to mention on
the side of historical necessity -- "Jump on the steamroller of
history before it comes and flattens you" urged one enthusiastic
Marxist. And that is the way Communist regimes have gone, with
totalitarian control and centralized planning ("democratic
centralism"). It would take a lot of Faith to believe that such a
state would ultimately wither away and lead to "true Communism".
However, it is Communism that is doing the withering away in many
Communist countries, happy to say.
Not surprisingly, the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin are
looked upon as sacred scriptures in Communist countries. In the Soviet
Union, Communist ideologists argue by quoting from the works of Lenin,
though one of their number once joked that "there is nothing on which
Lenin does not contradict himself several times"; which may be only a
mild exaggeration for Lenin's writings -- and many other sacred books.
Lenin is made to have foresaw a variety of things that have happened
since his death -- among other things, nuclear bombs. I even noticed
that a book on Quantum Electrodynamics had a small section on Lenin
and the "infinite extensibility of the electron" -- whatever that is.
Though Marxists have considered themselves scientific, Marxist
authorities have not been above scientific errors. Their most
egregious ones have been in biology, where the Soviet Government
supported Lysenko, a plant breeder and quack geneticist who supported
Lamarckism inheritance -- of acquired characteristics. He claimed that
his theories and techniques were in accordance with Marxist theory and
that he could do a lot better than those biologists who used Mendelian
genetics and statistical tests. The abject failure of other biologists
to find evidence for Lamarckism did not bother him at all. They were
labeled obstructionists and "idealists" -- believers in silly
fantasies like genes. Many of them were made to recant, and many
others were sent to Siberian prison camps or were executed. Not
surprisingly, Lysenko's schemes did nothing for Soviet agriculture,
and eventually the Soviet regime repudiated Lysenko and his schemes.
In the field of physics, they denounced quantum mechanics
because it was fundamentally indeterministic and contrary to Marxist
determinism, and also because it stated that fundamental entities had
both particle and wave properties, which seemed self-contradictory. It
turned out that quantum mechanics was necessary for (among other
things) how to understand how to make nuclear bombs, so they relented
in the 1950's. That book on Quantum Electrodynamics seemed just like
similar discussions by non-Marxist scientists, without a trace of
Marxist theory, with the exception of the Lenin discussion.
For some strange reason, Soviet ideologists once denounced the
idea that the Universe is finite in extent. I wonder what _that_ has
to do with Marxist theory.
Not surprisingly, Marxists have their own brand of
apologetics. One of them is that Marxist theory is a method, and not a
body of knowledge; thus avoiding seeming falsifications. But how does
one evaluate this "method"?
There are other "religious" overtones of Marxism. One of them
is the "cults of personality" of its leaders. I already mentioned how
the works of Lenin were used as sacred scriptures in the Soviet Union.
It goes further. Little children (including my sister, when my family
was there) were taught about "Uncle Lenin", this great man who loved
little children. Schoolchildren are taught about how hard Lenin
studied in school. Curiously, there is very little disrespect shown to
Lenin in the Soviet Union, even by dissidents. Even Gorbachev has
invoked the name of Lenin to support his reforms. I brought back from
the Soviet Union a little guidebook that described places that Lenin
had visited and worked -- a convenient guide for Communist pilgrims.
And visiting places that Lenin had worked in exile, such as Zurich,
Switzerland, have been convenient for those wanting to travel outside
the Soviet Union. And let us not forget Lenin's tomb in the Red
Square. His body (or a waxworks copy) is carefully preserved and laid
out for the vast crowds of visitors to see. One old lady was seen
crossing herself before him(!). And one article about the tomb's
reopening in 1974(?) described Lenin as "the genius of humanity" and
stated that "thousands and millions of people will now come and give
worship to him" Worship?!?
When Stalin was alive, he set up a big cult of _his_
personality; he was made to seem like a bigger hero than Lenin. And to
this day, he is still viewed as a forceful leader by some Russians,
despite having been turned into an official nobody by Khrushchev. I
have a little Russian history book, which is really hilarious. The
only Soviet leader mentioned is Lenin; Trotsky, Stalin, Khrushchev,
and even Brezhnev (who was then in power) were not mentioned. Towards
the end of Brezhnev's life, his memoirs came out, long, tedious, and
ghostwritten tracts. They got a lot of praise from official circles,
including one Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, and Brezhnev was called
"the best-read author on our entire planet".
Outside the Soviet Union, there have been no shortage of
Communist personality cults. The late, unlamented Nicolae Ceausescu
had had a personality cult that rivaled that of Stalin. Mao Zedong had
had a personality cult while he was in power, though when he died, his
successors responded slightly differently from Khrushchev -- they
labeled his associates -- the "Gang of Four", which had included his
wife -- the cause of all the trouble in China; thus rejecting Maoism
without (explicitly) rejecting Mao. What Deng Xiaoping and his
colleagues now think about Mao since the Tiananmen crackdown is an
intersting question. In North Korea, Kim Il-Sung has had a personality
cult going for some decades now; he is regarded as practically a
divinity there. He hopes to be succeeded by his son, thus setting up a
Communist monarchy. I wonder what kind of personality cult Castro has
in Cuba; and what Enver Hoxha had arranged in Albania. I suspect the
latter had had a big one also, since he broke with the Soviet Union,
and then China, for having departed from "true Commumism".
In summary, these "godless" Communists have created new "gods"
-- in the form of heroic leaders.
Loren Petrich, the Master Blaster \ ^ /
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"Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them" -- Madonna