With this essay, we intend to extend the discussion initiated in a previous essay titled “An Introduction to Why Communists Should Take Atheists Seriously”. In that piece, we pointed out the convergent characteristics of atheists and communists (historical approach, revolutionary approach, militancy) and emphasized that freedom from religion aimed at by atheists can contribute to communist political programs. Hence, in the conclusion, we stated that
It is part of the duty of the atheists to listen to what communists can offer them in their march against religions. … Atheists should take it seriously to form comradeships with the organizations that are closest to their views, namely communists.
We now would like to elaborate on this phrase.
For the sake of continuity, we will use the definitions adopted in the previous article: By the words communist and socialist, we will mean a person who employs the materialist conception of history and who aims at the Aufhebung1 of private property of (at least) the means of production. (These two items we take as definition will lead to the answer presented in the title.) Moreover, we will maintain our distinction between non-believers and atheist; we will characterize a non-believer by her/his choice not to believe in the existence of some sort of a god, whereas by atheist we will mean someone who deliberately 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.
Is it correct to stigmatize communists as atheists/irreligious?
In short, the answer is yes. Historical materialism requires one to use scientific method when analyzing social phenomena.2 Communist theories explain phenomena such as nations, patriarchy, industrialization etc. in terms of the historical development of the productive forces. Religion is not exempt from this analysis. For a communist, to create such an exception for religions (or anything else) is a methodological mistake and is clearly anti-Marxist. In Turkey and all around the world, communist organizations mostly managed to avoid making this mistake. They have nothing to do with the god delusion – no matter how much they would like to respect the values of the society. The communists are bound to irreligiousness.
Furthermore, historical materialism explains how religions survived till now. This explanation is not only better than the speculations of liberal atheist thinkers (that are based on non-religious dogmas), both also stronger in the sense that it provides an outline of how religions are to be abolished.
Monitorizing the historical development of productive forces unfolds the rise of religions and how they became reactionary. For instance, the Abrahamic religions have built partiarchy and heterosexism in Europe and Middle East. In a period when a state’s power was determined by its population, it was the correct political tactic when Moses prohibited homosexuality altogether, or when the Catholic Church declared every sperm sacred. One can enlarge the list of these examples; and the historical correctness of such tactics is proven by the fact that the Catholic Church, almost two millenia after its foundation, is still the richest mafia and the strongest illegal political organization in the world. (The task of integrating the Arab society to this division of labor, which has become widespread in Europe and Anatolia, was taken by Mohammed.)
Yet, the historical correctness of these moves has become a historical fault with the rise of industrialization. In a world where a single software can be distributed to the use of billions, in a world of nuclear weapons capable of destroying humankind several times, population is far from expressing power. Capitalism did revolutionize the economic structure, and actually, that revolution was against the past objective bases of religions. It is not a coincidence that religions have lost their power with the rise of capitalism.
However, when capitalist production itself became reactionary, that is, when it became an obstacle for the productive forces, capitalism cooperated with all the other reactionary ideologies in hand; which comes very handy for understanding the recent resurrection of religions (and nationalism and racism). (This is also the explanation of the facts that witchcraft – which was considered to be a mere superstition in the Middle Ages – was suddenly recognized by the Church in the Early Modern Era in order to play the people off against itself and to create a social hysteria, by inventing various scapegoats (especially women). )3 And this brings us to the second part of the essay.
Who are more atheistic, communists or atheists?
Most atheists aim no further than secularism carried to its end, that is, the complete separation of the state and religions. This is a liberal demand within the scope of capitalism. However, as argued above, this “solution” is superannuated together with the capitalist system. For communists, both the state and religions are political problems as superstructural institutions of the class society.
Moreover, there are more gods now. Manifesting itself in forms of money, free trade, wage-labour, commodification, profit maximization, economic development etc. (which we can summarize as offsprings of private property), a bunch of taboos and non-criticizables surround our lives today. Atheism should be the rejection of not only creator gods but also all kinds of “omnipotents”. In this sense, communists are more atheistic than atheists. If you are an atheist who would be satisfied by a genuine secularism, then communists (rejecting the sovereignty of money) are one god ahead of you.
Who, if not communists?
As communists are more atheistic than atheists, they always took side of the secularists and atheists in religious issues. This would suffice to argue that atheists should take communists’ words seriously; but there is more to it.
Religion is not a discrete, ahistorical problem. For careful eyes, there is only a formal difference between the ecology movements who fight against nuclear plants or hydro plants planned in the name of “national growth” and who choose the ecosystems over the economy, and the atheists who are indignified by a government who plans to raise a religious generation to “protect moral values” and who don’t postpone happiness to other worlds.
In our previous essay, we noted 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.
Religion is not only a sociological phenomenon but also part of the power relations. One can well think religions to be independent of the power relations, but this is not the way to win the struggle against religions. While it is part of the duty of the communists to mobilize atheists in favor of the emancipation of humanity, it is one of the most important duties of the atheists to take communists seriously in the march to save the world from all gods.