Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trotsky on religion (1)

Many many years ago I found a most interesting take on religion contained as a section in an article by Trotsky:

Trotsky, Leon. "Leninism & Workers' Clubs," 17 July 1924. In: Problems of Everyday Life and Other Writings on Culture and Science (New York: Monad Press, 1973).

I could not find this article in the huge repository Marxists Internet Archive, but after much searching, I found just the section I needed on another web site:

How socialists fight religion

Without checking, I cannot be certain whether this excerpt is the same English translation I originally consulted. As it happens, I translated this into Esperanto many years ago:

El Kontraŭreligia Propagando de Leono Trockij,
en: Ateismo 3: 1-3 (7-9), januaro-septembro 1991, p. 20-21.

I found an echo of this statement in a later article by Trotsky:

Trotsky, Leon. "Culture and Socialism" (1927), translated by Brian Pearce.

Here is the choice extract:

Relations in either socialist or communist society, i.e., in socialist society's highest development, will be thoroughly transparent and will not require such auxiliary methods as deception, lies, falsification, forgery, treachery and perfidy.

However, we are still a long way from that. In our relations and morals there are still many lies rooted both in serfdom and the bourgeois order. The highest expression of serfdom's ideology is religion. The relations in feudal-monarchal society were based on blind tradition and elevated to the level of religious myth. A myth is the imaginary and false interpretation of natural phenomena and social institutions in their interconnection. However, not only the deceived, that is, the oppressed masses, but also those in whose name the deception was carried out – the rulers, – for the most part believed in the myth and relied upon it in good conscience. An objectively false ideology, woven out of superstitions, does not necessarily signify subjective mendacity. Only to the extent that social relations become more complex, that is, to the extent that the bourgeois social order develops, with which religious myth comes into ever growing contradiction, religion becomes the source of ever greater cunning and more refined deception.

Developed bourgeois ideology is rationalistic and directed against mythology. The radical bourgeoisie tried to make do without religion and build a state based on reason rather than tradition. An expression of this was democracy with its principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. The capitalist economy, however, created a monstrous contradiction between everyday reality and democratic principles. A higher grade form of lying is required to fill up this contradiction. Nowhere do people lie more politically than in bourgeois democracies. And this is no longer the objective "lying" of mythology, but the consciously organized deception of the people, using combined methods of extraordinary complexity. The technology of the lie is cultivated no less than the technology of electricity. The most "developed" democracies, France and the United States, possess the most deceitful press.

There are several articles in English online on Trotsky, the Bolsheviks, and religion. My initial approach is to look at their theoretical statements, see how they measure up and to what extent they are relevant today. The next step of course is to research and examine their actions, which may or may not be in accord with their theory.


Ralph Dumain said...

I have translated this excerpt into Esperanto:

Trockij pri Religia & Sekulara MistifikoTrotsky commented on religion on many occasions. His perspective can be seen to be part of a Marxist tradition concerning the sources of mystification. Trotsky, like Marx, tied mystification to the lack of transparency in the relations of people to nature and society. In this way Marxism transcends the limitations of bourgeois atheism, which attacks religion only, but not the mystifications of secular bourgeois society.

Unknown said...


Here's a brilliant article on the practice of the Bolsheviks toward religion. As marxists, they did not attack religion, so much as they worked with people of all or no faiths to attack the conditions of exploitation and oppression which give rise to religion. They were especially sensitive to Muslims, Jews, and Evangelical Christians, who had all faced special oppression under the Czar.

As the revolution failed and Stalinist reaction set in, "Leninism" became a religion itself. But Lenin himself would never have stood for this.

Marxists believe that the truth is always concrete; it must always be demonstrated in practice. Natural science demonstrates its superiority in practice over religion every day (unfortunately, only a tiny minority of people today actually engage with the practice of science, even though they ride airplanes, use computers, or take medicine). But religion still exists because no social science has yet abolished suffering and alienation in human relations: it hasn't asserted itself in practice. Our social system is highly irrational from the standpoint of human need; thus, religion is still needed as the "heart of a heartless world."

Ralph Dumain said...

The article on the Bolsheviks & Islam is referenced in another post on this blog.