The mid-19th c was phenomenal. So many brilliant composers, scientists, philosophers, genuine geniuses like Marx and Darwin. The age of Prometheus. What Man could achieve seemed limitless. Man shaking his fist at God. Or even taking over, revolting against God. Atheism became the fashion among the intelligentsia. It's as if God got His revenge in the 20th c, showing Man just how childish, ignorant, hateful he could be. Without God. So was it all Marx's fault? What would he do?

Next to workers of the world unite!, Marx's religion is the opium of the people is a meme that is embedded in our consciousness. But like most good things in life, it is misquoted.

a) Opium was not the scary poison, supernarcotic of today's capitalism, but an ancient, respected pain killer before anesthetics. Both religion and opium can be described as addictive but that doesn't mean we must abandon either.

b) It leaves out the 'heart' of the quote: It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of our soulless conditions. Is Marx forbidding sighing? Denying you heart and soul? On the contrary, he is showing compassion with those suffering. He is also letting slip that he too has a heart and soul, though if you actually bother to read Marx, this soon becomes evident.

c) As long as the (capitalist) world, (heart-and-soul)less, shrieks at and mocks us, we will need that opium.

d) Religion becomes a kind of silent-majority protest when you are ruled by a heart-and-soulless economic system. Though Marx hardly pays much attention to Islam, we can see today how it is a powerful force against the same foe that Marx targeted. I can hear Marx and Engels cheering jihadists on, determined to attack and kill the monster.

Just before the 'heartless world', Marx says: Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. So it has 'real', i.e., material origins, but is it a protest? Not usually. Buddhism says human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment, or nirvana. After almost two centuries of trying to realize Marx's version of utopia, Buddhism still seems to be closer to 'the Truth'. Just alleviating suffering will not make us happy. That's utilitarianism. Bentham. Marx mocks capitalism as in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.

Of course, Marx was an atheist, or rather a secular humanist, a term that sits more comfortably on the tongue two centuries later. Somehow, like 'communist', atheist in popular myth is 'beyond the pale'. Did I just use a religious metaphor? You see, religion is buried deep in our language, our thinking.

In searching for the real Marx here, I stumbled on K. Marx and F. Engels, On religion, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955. As if to ward off the evil eye, someone had boldly stamped Published in Great Britain by LAWRENCE AND WISHART LTD, though the typeface, soft, flaky paper, the very occasional typo, betray its Soviet pedigree.i It is a loving compendium of Marx-Engels excerpts relating to religion, beginning with Marx's precocious, atheistish doctoral thesis (Democritus vs Epicurus):

Epicurus: Not he who rejects the gods of the crowd is impious, but he who embraces the crowd's opinion of the gods. And Aeschylus: In sooth all gods I hate.ii Prometheus embodies the consciousness of man as the supreme divinity.

Then a 10,000 word 'article' Marx wrote for Koln News, 'the paper of Rhineland intellectuals', which today is unreadable, full of barbs and asides which must have flummoxed the poor C.P.S.U. editors, starting with a parody of Lucian's Dialogue of the Gods, covering censorship, science, religion, marriage, philosophy, St Augustine's City of God, the kitchen sink (ok, he left that out), in a stream of consciousness style. Both are fascinating glimpses at the 20-something Marx.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) Engels peering over his shoulder

Things that Marx would not have wanted published, as if the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.C., C.P.S.U. was so worshipful (or braindead) that it assumed we too are worshipping Marx instead of reading him with a cold, analytical eye.

Finally we get to the good bits, the 'opium' meme from Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. 1844, Theses on Feuerbach, German Ideology, Communist Manifesto, Kapital. But then, from the Peasant war in Germany to the end, it is Engels writing. After his deadly putdown of religion in Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, nowhere does Marx deal with the idea of transcendence of material reality, the spiritual realm, though it's hard to imagine a more 'spirited' thinker than Marx.

The realm of thought is a black box still. Our minds race through thousands of thoughts in a jumble, much like Marx's heap of commodities in the opening of Kapital. Somehow, magically, sometimes they settle in exquisite prose, poetry, scientific equations, but usually they are dumped in our daily trash can, dismissed as worthless. Figuring out how, what and why we think can only come later, after we have analyzed the beast. (We are still not there.)


Christianity was in a mess in the 19th c, better or worse than today I can't say, but applying the 'scientific method' to religion from the 18th c on made a mockery of revealed religion in the guise of Christianity, and after a brief engagement with it, Marx left to Engels to fill in the details, leaving the main task, Kapital, to the genius.

Religion is relegated to 'historical materialism', i.e. history. All modern religions and churches are considered as 'organs of bourgeois reaction'. Religion is superstructure, an epiphonomenon. So forget the intricacies of thought, jump right to the correct answer: the end of exploitation will lead to the end of religion. Religion is no longer necessary. The meat of Marx's theory lay behind the factory walls, the pure theory of capital, the key to everything:

Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face “No admittance except on business.Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making. This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.

After his original calling as poet, then philosopher, Marx finally decided to enter the intellectual fray as a lowly, despised economist (intent on dismantling economics). The determining element in history is not religion, wars, but the production and reproduction of real life. The economic situation is the basis of society (including its evils). Engels: Marx and I are ourselves party to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. Why Islam was not undermined by the industrial revolution and atheist materialism (and is alive and well today) did not interest Marx much, though Engels throws in footnotes about Islam on occasion, even channeling Ibn Khaldun about the rise and fall of civilizations. But Christianity, the religion of empire, of capitalism, and was ripe for picking apart and devouring.

Marx settled on materialism as his epistemology early, famously flipping Hegel on his head, though in retrospect, he left a lot of rubble behind in the process. Sadly, we are left with the impression that only the (ugly) material reality is all there is, despite the incredible scope and depth of Marx's analytical mind, soaring as it does above the sordid 19th c material, grubby world. It's as if Marx attributes to Everyman his own brilliant secular mind, too busy thinking and dreaming to ponder that very few humans can ever approach his Olympic heights, and really need a bit of opium to make it through. The Truth will set you Free. (Not)

Materialism does not mean gluttony, lust, avarice, i.e., vice. It means you start with things (Kapital first sentence: The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities'), analyze them, then go back to change them, make them better, i.e., communism. But in the same breath, he goes on to state: The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference, which he footnotes with Desire implies want, it is the appetite of the mind, and as natural as hunger to the body.

Whoa! What's the point of commodities? Of existence? To satisfy desires, i.e., thoughts, emotions, which transcend the material world, or more likely, help us survive it. So the material world is just the (ugly, distorted) mirror image of our thought world, which Marx then dismisses so as to keep the focus on the (boring, difficult) nitty-gritty. Marx spent his life investigating this (capitalist) material reality and got only half way before he died in terrible pain and poverty, never realizing very many of his own immaterial 'desires'.

Kapital begins with a chaotic mountain of material commodities in circulation, the realm of superficial freedom, descends (or rather reconstructs material reality in thought) into the production process, where exploitation creates the surplus value, and ends with distribution, among capitalists, landlords and workers. Abstract theory done, back to the real material world.

Vs Hegel's being, essence, notion, ideas embodied in the mind, returning to Spirit as Man is redeemed in the Godhead. Hegel is idealism. He lived through the French revolution, secretly admiring the revolution but mortified by the godless, profane post-French revolutionary age. He set out to 'redeem' Christianity (pesky religious metaphor again) with prose far more turgid than anything Marx penned. He starts with the Spirit, which incarnates in material reality, Man, the point being to understand it all and rise back into Spirit in oneness, i.e., pie in the sky when you die. But Marx dismisses whims and fancies from the get-go, so idealism was no good, though Hegel's cool dialectical swirls he did take on in his ambitious theory of society/ history.

Are we able in ideas and notions of the real world to produce a correct reflection of reality using materialism? Most say yes. Skeptics Hume and Kant no. But, as Engels enthuses (after Marx's death) we can make substances in the lab, i.e., we can be God (sort of), ending the Kantian ungraspable thing-in-itself. You don't need Absolute Truth, which is a fantastic survival of belief in God. Material sensuous relations are all we need. Thinking and consciousness are the product of a material bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not the product of mind but mind is product of matter. Pure materialism. Feuerbach stops short.iii Engels doesn't see that his plodding dialectical materialism is still stuck in mechanistic 18th c thinking. He saw the great discoveries of science (cell, energy, evolution) and rushed forward to them as the basis for an ersatz absolutish truth. Ouch!

Bauer: The Marx family's pro forma conversion to Christianity was hardly a case of 'born again' belief. Marx and Engels were much like leftwing gadflies today, doyens of high culture, morally upright, disdainful of 'opium', armed with their revolutionary alternative thinking. They were inspired first by Strauss's Life of Jesus 1835, treating Jesus as a mythical figure who illustrates timeless truths but not historical facts. Mark was the first gospel, the other gospels were elaborations, the epistles and miracles were fabricated. And second, by Bruno Bauer's Criticism of the Gospel History of the Synoptics (1841), which was the first to apply science to deconstructing the Bible, introducing the main themes that still dominate biblical hermeneutics today. Bauer built on Hegel's analysis of Christianity's Hellenic as well as Jewish roots, concluded that early Christianity owed more to ancient Greek philosophy (Stoicism) than to Judaism, arguing that Jesus of Nazareth was a 2nd c fusion of Jewish, Greek, and Roman theology.

The Alexandrian Jew Philo (d50AD) used allegory to harmonize Jewish scripture, mainly the Torah, with Greek philosophy, making him the real father of Christianity and the Roman stoic Seneca its uncle. Augustus Caesar (d14AD) needed a God-man and so-called immaculate conception (his mother conceived him of the god Apollo). This set the stage for Christianity eventually becoming the empire's religion.

Bauer later proposed that Jesus didn't exist at all! That suited Marx just fine. But Bauer was no atheist, just a rationalish Christian. Their friendship didn't last long. Bauer was teacher, mentor, friend to the young Marx, but he was 'right Hegelian' and Marx was 'left Hegelian', oil and water, and when Marx and his new friend Engels starting spouting communism, Bauer washed his hands of Marx. In Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Marx writes, for Germany the criticism of religion is in the main complete.iv The Christian god is only a fantastic reflection, a mirror image, of man. A fantastic realization of human's essence because the human essence has no true reality.v Really? That's a stretch. But Man makes religion, not religion makes man. That's also fine. Even for a believer like Bauer. We shape our practice of religion to meet the historical juncture we live in.

Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1841), his atheism and anthropological materialism were a much better fit for Marx. Spinoza's immortality as reabsorption in nature was close enough to immortality for him. Christianity has in fact long vanished not only from the reason but from the life of mankind, that it is nothing more than a fixed In every aspect God corresponds to some feature or need of human nature. As Feuerbach states: In the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own nature. God is nothing else than human: he is, so to speak, the outward projection of a human's inward nature. God's divine qualities (truth, compassion, forgiveness, fearlessness, understanding...) are human ideals.vii

Feuerbach, the polite cultured atheist, developed what he calls the true or anthropological essence of religion, treating God in his various aspects as a being of the understanding, as a moral being or law, as love. Man contemplates many things and in doing so he becomes acquainted with himself. Feuerbach shows that in every aspect God corresponds to some feature or need of human nature. If man is to find contentment in God, he must find himself in God. Thus God is nothing else than man: he is, so to speak, the outward projection of man's inward nature. Noble, good qualities are not divine because of their godly association. The qualities themselves are divine therefore making God divine, indicating that man is capable of understanding and applying meanings of divinity to religion and not that religion makes a man divine.

Engels sarcastically accuses him of the deification of love as a liberating force in place of the emancipation of proletariat. He wants to perfect religion, make it rational. Feuerbach: Are not compassion, love and enthusiasm for truth and justice ideal forces? I.e., irreducible to matter. Engels: With Feuerbach, sex love one of highest forms, if not the highest form, of the practice of his new religion.viii Is Engels being a prude here? Silly?

Marx insists that blanket love, the Golden Rule (Kant's categorical imperative) are impotent, as purely human sentiments are impossible in a system based on class conflict, i.e., irrational, so they never attain reality. History is a litany of war, conflict, exploitation. Marx replaces Feuerbach's abstract man with a science of real men and historical development as seen through class conflict. For Marx that takes the place of Darwin's 'selection of the fittest'. Interestingly, Bakunin takes Feuerbach's laws of morality – rational self-constraint and love/ the Golden Rule and spins a theory of evolution based on love, which fits nicely with recent evolution theory. Love really does make the world go round.

Real is rational and rational is real

Hegel's crowning aphorism (opaque is an understatement). The sanctification of things that be? A modern way of putting this might be that if the argument is sound, if the premises are correct, then the conclusion must follow, be true/ real, even if there is no evidence.ix An important implication of the statement is even an idea that necessarily follows from reason is real. In other words, what follows logically from Hegel’s dialectic system must be real. The inevitability of Hegel’s dialectic suggests that whatever is logically supposed to happen according to it, must be real. Even for an evil government? If it appears to us as evil but continues to exist then 'rationally' it is due to the evil character of its subjects. (two wrong make a right?!).

Wait a minute, says Engels in 1886 (Marx died in 1883 so we can't blame him). In 1789 the French monarchy was so unreal, irrational that it had to be destroyed. i.e., revolution is real! For Engels, the Hegelian dialectic turns the proposition into its opposite. All that is real in human history becomes irrational in time, tainted beforehand with irrationality. Everything rational in the minds of men is destined to become real.x Since communism is rational it is inevitable. Truth through cognition. A perfect state can only exist in the imagination. You improve in stages. There's no perfection. Only an uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away. Pursuit of attainable relative truths of positive sciences. Eventually communism. Q.E.D.

Conservative Hegel: you can't reach Absolute Truth in the material world, only iterations. Radical Engelsian Hegel: you can recognize socialism as the abstract Absolute Truth and revolution as the path to overcome all contradictions, and get there in the material world via the short cut of abstract reason. Does that sound suspicious? Imagine Lenin in 1917 deciding, based on an infatuation with Hegel and Marx, to go for a communist revolution in devastated Russia, with enemies breathing down his neck. What the hell? It's rational so it must work. What a muddle. Histo-mat (cousin of dia-mat) as many a Soviet scholar or even high schooler would moan.xi

Why do we need this? Well, Marx's project is:

1/ Critique religion so we are stripped of illusions. Pluck the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but

2/ so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower. i.e., educate everyone really, really well, so they understand and are ready to resist their exploitation, you know, like Prometheus. Theses on Feuerbach III:xii The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances forgets that men change circumstances, and the educator himself needs educating. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice. [but not everyone is Prometheus.]

3/ Have a revolution to replace religion with communism. Theses on Feuerbach II: The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power.

Historical materialism or History stripped of its religious shell

Consciousness is a product of society.xiii For Marx, that meant material class interests in the first place shaped history. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions. 

But religion is not just opium, superstructure. Religion can affect the material world, the structure of society through adherents' social relations within the religion. So Christianity is attractive especially to slaves with hopes of liberation, and at the same time to empire for its quietism.

They surveyed recent and past history, cloaked as it was by religion. In the so-called religious wars of the 16th c, the demands of the various classes were concealed behind a religious screen; the existing social conditions had to be stripped of their halo of sanctity. Yes. The greedy merchant elite wanted to seize church property, though that wasn't Luther or Calvin's inspiration.

But the Protestant spirit was already there as a reaction to church dogma. The 'spirit' of capital always uses real materials (Luther) to achieve its ends. Adam Smith: 'It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Only the beggar relies on good will alone.' Protestantism merely gave a pious cover for the cash nexus as man's new idol. 18th c economic 'science' with Homo economicus as man's essence is a bourgeois concept, not 'real'. More Bentham .

'Revolutionary' Luther did not support peasant uprisings that followed his 'revolution'. He sided with the merchants. The peasants wanted revenge, land. Their leader Munzer was more Luther than Luther: 'not the Bible but reason is the infallible Holy Spirit.' Munzer saw his proto-communists, the Anabaptists, as rational. It was the French Calvin who was the real (bourgeois) revolutionary, supporting the French 18th c materialists against the feudal religious outlook. Downplaying free will fit bourgeois needs. The commercial world of competition was predestined, the market the new god, though durable bourgeoisie rule was possible only in US, where there were no feudal remnants. Republican, democratic. The Huguenots were repressed but remerged as free thinkers. The bourgeoisie was atheistic but in the 19th c renounced its former free-thinking and began to make use of religion as an opiate for the masses. The Christian god died sometime in the 18th c in the bright shiny US.

Marx sums this up in The Communist Manifesto: The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class. When the ancient world was in its last throes, the ancient religions were overcome by Christianity. When Christian ideas succumbed in the 18th c to rationalist ideas, feudal society fought its death battle with the then revolutionary bourgeoisie. The ideas of religious liberty and freedom of conscience merely gave expression to the sway of free competition within the domain of knowledge. Communism abolishes eternal truths, all religion, all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis. It therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.xv

Religions are founded by people who feel a need for religion themselves and have a feeling for the religious needs of the masses. Vulgarized Judaism is transformed into worship of an exclusively Jewish national God Jahveh as the one true God, and adopted immortality of the soul which was alien to early Judaism. Christianity was fashioned to be acceptable to Greeks and Romans and airbrushed out the notion of the superiority of the Jewish Christians (John's Revelation still has this.), to suit the needs of empire. In contrast, Islam preserved its specifically oriental ritual nature, which leads Engels to dismiss it as limited to the orient and north Africa. Not able to attract followers in the Christian West.xviii

Imperialism's afterlife

Capitalism rather than imperialism was the focus of Marx and Engels. In his earliest published work, On the Jewish question, Marx equates commerce with Judaism, and concludes that Christian nations have adopted the Jewish secular god, money, and calls for the emancipation of society from Judaism, i.e., capitalism.

They saw mostly the liberating, revolutionary role of capitalism, not the disastrous effects it had in the colonies that were multiplying as he mused. He also fails to highlight the key to Christianity's 'success' in the 4th c, the transformation of a revolutionary ideology of liberation into the heavy cloak of empire. The role which it has maintained till today, as we live in a typology of empires, Roman, Portuguese, Spanish, etc. This has left Christianity helpless before US-Israel, the most deadly empire in human history.

So first stare down the dragon. Then build a moral society. God-Building was an idea proposed by some prominent early Bolsheviks after they (miraculously) fought their version of the dragon. Inspired by Feuerbach's 'religion of humanity', harking back to the French revolution with its cult of reason. The idea proposed that in place of the abolition of religion, there should be a meta-religious context in which religions were viewed primarily in terms of the psychological and social effect of ritual, myth and symbolism in an attempt to harness this force for pro-communist aims, both by creating new ritual and symbolism and by re-interpreting existing ritual and symbolism in a socialist context. In contrast to the atheism of Lenin, the God-Builders took an official position of agnosticism.xxiii (They are precursors of the theory of Man below.)

While Catholic liberation theology was most influential in Latin America, it has also been developed in other parts of the world such as black theology in the US and South Africa, and Palestinian liberation theology. The Colombian Camilo Torres Restrepo (d1966) saw an alliance between Marxists and Catholics as necessary, arguing that they are the only movements that could bring about political change, and that both are devoted to fighting social inequality. He believed in the necessity of a revolution, seeing the poverty in Colombia as proof that the hitherto peaceful ways of the Catholic Church to bring about change have failed.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, communists, socialists and Islamists sometimes joined forces in opposing colonialism. The communist Tudeh Party of Iran was allied with the Islamists in their ultimately successful rebellion against the Shah in 1979, although in the chaos following the revolution, the US embassy occupation and the war with Iraq, the Islamists turned on their one-time allies.

Many supporters of the Vietnamese communists were Buddhists, strongly believing in the unification of Vietnam, with many opposing South Vietnam due to former President Ngo Dinh Diem's persecution of Buddhism during the early 1960s. The current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso speaks positively of Marxism despite the heavy persecution of the Tibetan people by the Maoist and post-Mao Chinese government. The Dalai Lama further stated that 'of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.'xxiv.

In India, B. R. Ambedkar wrote in his essay Buddha or Karl Marx that 'the Russians are proud of their Communism. But they forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangh was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism without dictatorship a miracle which Lenin failed to do.'

Marx and Islam

Islam, in contrast to Christian imperialism, arose as the nemesis of empire, at its heart being the fierce asceticism of the desert Bedouin. Marx lumped Islam with other 'eastern religions', primarily Buddhism, as ancient Asiatic modes of production, where conversion of men into producers of commodities holds a subordinate place. Trading nations exist only in its interstices, like Jews in the pores of Polish society. Not fully developed modes of production.

Marx  concluded there was no private property in land, which he later revised after reading Indian British accounts, but he was on to something. Islam was indeed radically different from Christianity and Judaism, not only theologically but culturally.

By embracing empire, Pauline Christianity (and its now shadow European Judaism) embraced Roman law, which was big on private property, with rights of usus, fructus, abusus. With slavery as its economic engine, property rights under Roman law were total. You own it, you can abused it, no questions asked.

Islam (and Buddhism) put limits on property. In Islam Man is khalif, steward of God's gifts. It's no surprise Islam and Buddhism did not produce capitalism but rather got stuck (or escaped) with 'Asiatic means of production' and 'oriental despotism'. Islamic rulers basically allowed newly islamicized peoples to carry on with their herding, farming, trade, imposing only a distribution of surplus through taxation (more or less benign depending on the local ruler), the masses dependent on the rulers for public works (primarily irrigation).

Class contradictions were weak so the social formation was stable (Marx says 'stagnant'). Somehow this led to feudalism? Anthropology was still in its infancy. Marx and Engels were fudging things to squeeze Islam into their crude 'historical materialism'. They were persuaded, by the 1870s that Muslims promoted civilisation in Turkey and Hindustan on a 'semi-feudal' pattern, but what is 'semi-feudal'? Sorry Marx, but you (and Engels) took on too much. When Lenin and worse Stalin got involved, things went from bad to worse. Soviet contempt for traditional philologists tore up the valuable Russian work of early Asian anthropology, and after a spirited (and doomed) debate in the 1920s and the inevitable 1930s purging, Muslim feudalism was established by hack Marxists. The wealth of Muslim traditions was flattened, entire peoples deported, but somehow the Muslim-majority Soviet 'nationalities' prospered and became the great losers when the Soviet Union collapsed. Islam quickly rebounded and the 'stans' are still the envy of the Muslim world, having escaped the devastations of capitalist development that were really devastating (think of any Muslim country from Egypt to India/ Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia).

How this religion was able to establish itself all over the world (with the exception of remote, inhospitable, barbaric western Europe) is never really explained by Marx, let alone Engels, or Soviet hacks. Engels did add an Islamic touch in his argument that Muslim societies with the Bedouin-urban dynamic created real economic cycles, where the poor but morally strict Bedouin would produce a mahdi, and invade decadent cities, re-establishing a more religiously acceptable order, but without changing the system, channeling Ibn Khaldun.xxv This contrasts with the West and a similar religious reformation in the 16th c which did lead to a new economic order, capitalism.

Karl Marx famously highlighted religion’s dual character as both an illusion and a comfort to the oppressed, and many socialist movements have deployed religious iconography (and, for the Christian left, the example of Jesus) in their cause. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is the main Islamic movement to incorporate social welfare as a 'pillar', making it similar to Catholic liberation theology though it insists 'neither capitalism nor socialism but Islam'. Other salafi (traditional) groups are more literalist and quietist.

Gilbert Achkar gives a good analysis of the politics of Islam and communism in the 20th c in Jacobin Marx and the Prophet. He agrees with Marx that there is no essence of Man. We are a social, economic product. The idea that capitalism was creating a world after its own image, like 'God created man in His own image' in Genesis, was deeply flawed: capitalism was instead creating two hierarchical worlds, a dynamic and dominant one in the metropolises and a crippled and dominated one in the colonial world. Producing self-satisfied fat cats and starving strays. Marx saw this in India, and Engels did likewise with regard to Algeria, when they understood that colonial domination was much more devastating than it was 'civilizing'. They grasped this in light of their study of Ireland, a context they could understand much more directly. Their love affair with capitalism (Communist Manifesto) was souring when Marx died. They realized that for much of the world – the Islamic and Buddhist East – capitalism-imperialism was devastating, decivilizing.

Achkar doesn't mention the major role that Islam is now playing in US life, primary through the 'reversion' of millions of blacks. A third of slaves were Muslim. Islam spreads among blacks in prison. It provides a positive culture to integrate into on the outside. The culture shock in the mixing of blacks and immigrant non-black Muslims is like the Quran in action:  And all the [beauty of] many hues-which He has created for you on earth: in this, behold, there is a message for people who (are willing to] take it to heart. 16:13

Marx-Engels' materialist interpretation of religion seems to explain less and less the more we delve. Religion cannot be eliminated until the social and political conditions which foster it are abolished. While emphasizing the need for the workers’ party to fight against reactionary and quack uses of religion, they defended the freedom of religious practice against state interference. Marx and Engels mocked those, such as the Blanquists and disciples of Mikhail Bakunin, who wanted to abolish religion by decree. xxvi This thread was never totally lost in Lenin's militant atheism, as the above-quoted Soviet On Religion introduction opines: 'In the USSR there are still remnants of religious outlooks. The struggle against religion must not be pursued by administrative interference in the affairs of religious people, but by profound and systematic scientific atheist propaganda.' 

Islamic revival has actually been nurtured by secular authoritarian states, both neocolonial Muslim states (Egypt) and Jewish Israel, to weaken the secular nationalism of oppressed Arabs. So much for 'superstructure'. That led to funding of actual terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, but also Hamas, which showed the bankruptcy of Palestinian secular nationalism, and the power of Islam as a political force in confronting Evil. (yes, we live in a religious age of Good and Evil. Get used to it.).

US support of Saudi Arabia fits this policy, as Saudis are quietist, not confronting imperialism, but living under its protection and spreading oil wealth to Muslim adherents of Saudi quietist Islam. But it ignores that privately Saudis, Qataris etc, despise their US puppet master and actively fund Islamists, helping the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan and Hamas to launch its spectacular raid on October 7, 2023. Islam clearly has something that both capitalism and Christianity lack, and tinkering with it to meet evil ends backfires. In sharp contrast with the imitation of Christ, the imitation of Muhammad is immediately political and combative, and it upholds a model of government, proven in practice in Medina under Muhammad.

Aligning with secular socialist revolution has not fared well, as happened in the 1979 Iranian revolution, where the Islamists were unable to work with the seculars and wiped them out, though the 1960s Iranian socialist Shariati is remembered fondly. Yet Iran after the revolution was quasi-socialist by default (as Islam is in many ways), with the Islamic government nationalizing businesses of those fleeing the revolution, and Iran’s Hezbollah became socialism in all but name in Lebanon, communal, avoiding the loaded communist/ socialist label.xxviii The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would follow a similar path, promoting trade and agriculture and ensuring social cohesion through extensive zakat (charity).

Religion is on the rebound. Europe is now desecularizing, mostly because of Muslim immigration, which has in turn spurred a rightwing return to 'family, homeland, religion'. Ironically, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah are strong supporters of democracy, as it seems many citizens want to turn away from neocolonialism and would approve a theocratic state. Dry atheism even with the leaven of humanism and modern art, can never compete with rich emotions evoked by religion. [Atheist Jewish] Ernst Bloch: why is this remote language [Hebrew] never boring?

Secular religions of socialism and anarchism are exhausted. Lovelock: The greens have failed to stir mass altruism and collective sacrifice. Islam is socially conservative (strict morals, no alcohol, no usury), with charity and just rule as 'pillars'. In a sense, the Muslim Brotherhood's 'neither capitalism nor socialism but Islam' makes sense for finding common, spiritual ground. We have to overcome class conflict as the motive force in society. Find common ground in Nature. These are apocalyptic times.

What would Marx do?

Just as born-again Christians always ask 'what would Jesus do?' to guide their lives (or Muslims 'what would Muhammad do?'), so devotees/ slaves/ disciples of Marx should ask 'what would Marx do?', i.e., today, given the past two monstrous centuries. Would he 'wash his hands' of Lenin? Nod approvingly at Islamic resistance to imperialism?

The most exciting Marxist to my mind today is Liah Greenfeld, who reimagines Marx's grand theory as a theory of Man. She found evidence to rehabilitate Marx from his baleful legacy of economism and totalitarianism in his early writings, where human spirit, rather than social institutions, preoccupied Marx most.

Re Hegel, in a letter to his father in 1843, he equated 'activity of history' with 'that of the mind'. Life as the expression of an intellectual activity develops in all directions, science, art, private matters. The nature of the mind is just as necessary, concrete and firmly based as the nature of the body. The science of Man, human science, should be one of the natural sciences, man as an organism with a mind... Only naturalism is capable of comprehending the act of world

We need a science of Man, not just workers, starting with comparative civilizations, looking at why the East still has much lower mental illness than the West in an age of globalization. Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, the spiritual heritage of the East, no doubt have some answers. (Sadly, Israeli-American Greenfeld ignores Islam where people have lived well adjusted lives)xxxii The new illness infects everyone in our Cosmopolitan Empire. Marx and Engels recognized that a crude dismissal of religion as 'superstructure', civilizational add-ons, was inadequate, but they stuck to the economistic high road, placing their bets on a worker revolution that would clear the way for rational utopia. Not.

Economics is a small part of a theory of Man, maybe 10%. Most of the theory will deal with the spiritual order, the transcendent reality, access to which we have been graced by God through the gift of consciousness. It is surely the goal of humanity to nurture and build on this miracle, to see how far we can perfect our earthly form and content, leaving the profane, muddy material world as far behind as possible.

In Islamic philosophy, self-consciousness, awareness, is our fitra, our nature, endowment, our essence. No need for Descartes. Our senses are acquired traits (you can be blind, but if you're self-aware then you're still human). Animals have lower levels consciousness such that there is a whole marvelous gradation of consciousnesses in nature. Humans are an order of magnitude higher, but most people abuse this miracle, i.e., they sin. Or just live like animals, not bothering to use the complex mysterious tool we were graced with at birth. No! We have to nurture, train the mind, the engine that self-consciousness drives. And we indeed have a 'sixth sense'. it's called religion, neurotheology. That is where the science of Man begins. In Islam, with some Marxian insights.

And it is the highest 'sense', the one that should be governing our lives. That we are ignorant, ungrateful wastrels in a godless age could hardly be clearer now. And our soul/ spirit needs nurturing too. \It starves if I don't feed it good deeds, good thoughts, prayers every day. Otherwise it withers and dies, and then lets genocide and other horrors happen without a thought. Maybe even turns it into porn, as Israeli settlers do in making videos of mass torture of Gazans.

Man, graced with the miracle of self-consciousness, still only dimly understands higher reality. Aren't greed, lust for power universal? Deeper than class conflict? And just look at all the pesky religious metaphors. Beyond the pale, soulless world, washing your hands, spiritual weapon ... Cultural anthropologist Scott Atran found that no society has lasted more than two generations without religion. Our brains are fine-tuned to religion. We are a religious animal! Even our atheism is a belief. Given that, religious belief is more rational than atheism. It is no wonder we are entering a new era of religious politics. Europe is desecularizating, importing Muslim workers, who still love large families. Israeli haredim are determined to populate Israel, with families of 12+. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah are strong supporters of democracy.


I worshipped Jesus, then Marx, now I have straightened/ straitened my path to follow the only robust universal monotheism, Islam. Still following Marx in that 'the proof is in the pudding', resisting capitalism, imperialism, as sinful, wrong. That means standing up to US-Israel, a perversion of both Judaism and Christianity, as the last and most vicious of imperialisms. The closer we get to defeating imperialism, the closer we get to God, to the Absolute Truth. You never really get there, but each member of the ummah must commit to this path in his/her lifetime, with the understanding that human reality gets better as long as we continue to struggle. That has to be our belief.

The collapse of communism toppled the idol Marx. The Pauline Jesus is gone too, leaving Jesus as Jewish Messiah/ prophet and Islam as the continuation of monotheism, purged of Pauline empire accommodationism, quietism. The idol of revolution, the urge to 'wipe the slate clean' Mao-style, is also gone. Revolutions seem to degenerate into tyranny and lose the thread. Marx's love of revolution meant that he too lost the thread, mired in economics, which is, at best, 10% of the science of Man, Marx's original project.

Back to the drawing board. Marx fits in as a kind of anti-Christ, part of the human apocalyptic imagination. He might even agree, tonge-in-cheek. Who knows what Marx would make of the 21st c? What would Marx do? Would he find the flaws in his life work, how irrational turned into unreality? Nihilism? Islam as the antidote to the anti-Christ, whoever s/he/ it may be?


Also Islam and Jesus as Jewish Messiah 

and Pauline Christianity vs Jesus as Jewish Messiah

i I will use italics for quotes from Marx and Engels only.

ii K. Marx and F. Engels, On religion, 1955.,15.

iii Ibid., Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy, 231.

iv Ibid., Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 41.

v Ibid., Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy, 238.

vi Karl Marx, On Philosophy and Christianity, 1839.

viiLudwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 1841, ch 1 section 2.

viii Ibid., Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy, 237-238.

x K. Marx and F. Engels, op cit, Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy, 217.

xi The Soviet version of Marx's dialectical and historical materialism.

xii K. Marx and F. Engels, op cit, 69-70.

xiii Ibid., German Ideology, 85.

xiv Ibid. "The Communism of the Paper Rheinischer Beobachter, 83-84.

xv Ibid., Communist Manifesto, 88-89.

xvi Ibid., Engels, Bruno Bauer and early Christianity, 196. We can note the fate of any socialist/ communist revolution, where the same dynamic undermines its message of liberation.

xvii Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. 1852

xviii K. Marx and F. Engels, Bruno Bauer and early Christianity,195-199. The Book of Revelation, 205.

xix Ibid., The Book of Revelation, 206-210.

xx Ibid., On the history of early Christianity, 316-347. And post-1917, or post-any revolution.

xxi Ibid., On the history of early Christianity, 316.

xxii Hunt, Tristram (2009). The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels. Metropolitan/Henry Holt & Co.

xxiii Anatoly Lunacharsky (1908). Religion and Socialism. Moscow. p. 20.

xxiv 'Dalai Lama Answers Questions on Various Topics'.

xxv Ibid., footnote 317.

xxvi Ibid., Anti-Duhring, 149.

xxvii Ibid., 10.

xxviii Eric Walberg, Islamic Resistance to Imperialism, 2015, 207-214.

xxix Liah Greenfeld, Mind, Madness and Modernity, 2013, 452.

xxx Ibid., 618.

xxxi Ibid., Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy, 246-247, 268.

xxxii She is also silent on Israel's gruesome destruction of Gazans, clearly chained to her scholarly career, though a 'science of Man' which ignores genocide is on shaky grounds.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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