I should start by saying that, contrary to the historical development of the words1, I will use socialist and communist interchangeably to refer to a person who agrees that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” and aims at the Aufhebung2 of private property of at least the means of production.
I will also make a distinction between non-believers and atheists here. While a non-believer can be someone who simply chooses not to believe in the existence of some sort of a god; I define an atheist to be someone who deliberatively rejects either the concept of god, the possibility of god, the probability of god, the existence of god, or at least the institutionalization of god – depending on how much thought she/he has given to the issue. I should point out that this convention will explicitly distinguish radical secularists and atheists.
Atheists feat. Communists
There are several crucial points common between atheists and communists, but the strange tension between the two creates the impression that the communists do not notice the potentials that are waiting to be realized in the atheist movements.
Contrary to the popular straw-man fallacy3, atheists already know that religion is a means used by the oppressors in the class struggle. Whether an individual atheist calls this phenomenon class struggle or not is only a matter of theoretical maturity. It is enough to note that a typical atheist is well aware of the difference between the pope and a Christian layman, and how they create each other in the course of history.
This leads us to the most essential common trait between atheists and communists, which is that they almost always stick to the historical approach when analyzing social phenomena. Atheists are not satisfied by simply rejecting some particular gods, they go quite a few steps ahead by analyzing how religions were developed historically. This is “most essential”, since once a person is determined to criticize the most strongly established taboos in the world and started to analyze its historical background, it requires a very small perturbation to encourage this person to criticize other phenomena of alienation such as nationalism, private property and human nature. The atheists, just like communists, are immune to any dogmatic opinions.
To be able to criticize an established dogma is one thing, but atheists are far better than that. They also reject the whole conception in an unusually conscious fashion. It is crystal-clear for the atheists that they will never succeed in convincing an archbishop about the nonexistence of his god, and that this is not because of the weakness of their arguments but because of conflicts of interests. The historical approach enforces the atheistic struggle to be a political one: The churches and mosques will not disappear because everyone becomes a non-believer or a skeptic at the least; people will be able to question their metaphysical beliefs only after the abolishment of religious institutions. This brings us to the second common trait between atheists and communists: the revolutionary approach. Whether today’s atheists are willing to organize such a revolution is a different topic (and a very inspirational one, indeed), my point is that atheists know that there is no other way for humanity to be freed from religions.
Thirdly, to reject god(s) requires much more bravery than to aim at Aufhebung of private property. As Karl Marx has nicely put it in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, “private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.” Therefore, in theoretical grounds, a proletarian does not fight against her/his rooted values when aiming at the Aufhebung of private property. On the other hand, an atheist, by rejecting the existence of a god, also jumps over the dogmas on heaven and hell, meaning(s) of life, and the weird first cause discussions. This in turn results in a substantial militancy on the side of the atheist, even if she/he is not aware of this. I postpone the discussions on whether this substantial militancy can be turned into a political struggle and how to do it to another essay.
Atheists vs. communists
Communists generally defend the rights of atheists and atheist causes, but communist organizations are reluctant to embrace their objectives. While this probably results from a populist maneuver on the side of communists when it comes to religious issues, there is also another essential divergence between the two categories, a divergence of objectives.
Atheists work for the freedom from religions, instead of the bourgeois notion of freedom of religions formed by freedom of the state from religions. Generally, communists aim at a radical secularism, which would somehow lead to a materialist formation of the society. Some also add that the abolishment of the dualism between the civil society and the political society will bring about this conclusion. Communists consider human emancipation a very precious aspect of the struggle, yet by an ungrounded reference to Karl Marx’s views4, they insist on emphasizing on the political emancipation. This fact generates a ridiculous divergence by creating the image that while the communists will make the revolution, the atheists will remain revolutionaries afterwards too. In fact, this divergence resembles the two sides of a zipper. They fit perfectly well, provided they are zipped up together.
Human emancipation is the starting point of all the socialist ideas, yet the political atmosphere usually throws it out of focus. Once remembered, the radically progressive side of the atheistic movements will come to light. In fact, atheists are very much ready for such an approach as no atheist claims to ban religious beliefs but intends to abolish the religious institutions. And this is simply radical secularism as mentioned previously.
In fact, such a comradeship between atheists and communists will be very fruitful for the communists to reveal the hypocritical freedom of the bourgeoisie by replacing it with the deeper term emancipation, and therefore strengthening the soft spots of socialist organizations on freedom of opinion, freedom of religion etc. It is obvious for an atheist activist that a Muslim is not free just because she/he is a Muslim, since she/he is diverted from the materialist understanding of the material relations. This is crucial, as most socialists would agree, when discussing what kind of alienation and freedom we are talking about.
Who, if not communists?
It is part of the duty of the atheists to listen to what communists can offer them in their march against religions. Atheists are and also feel themselves under constant threat while conservative viewpoints gain audience through nationalist and fundamentalist hate speech by right-wing political parties. Atheists should take it seriously to form comradeships with the organizations that are closest to their views, namely communists.
It is part of the duty of the communists to mobilize atheists in favor of the emancipation of humanity. The atheist movements and atheist individuals are probably one of the most progressive social categories in today’s world. As mentioned previously, they also have the potential for a determined militancy combined with an internal tendency toward the critical method. Such a bright movement cannot fit into any organization other than a socialist one. Either communists will embrace atheist politics, or watch this huge potential die away with the rise of regressive capitalist policies.
Ege M. Diren