quote religion is the opium of the masses karl marx 120974

There is something in the white trunked birches of Russia that dumbs my mind and irritates my flesh.  Every May, their leaves, still small and weak from just being born into the world, provoke me to exhaustion and the coughing and sneezing begins.  This 11th spring of my Moscow years, is the worst, and the congestion becomes a bronchitis which does not go easily from my chest.  My friend Gulia sends her husband to bring me a small bag full of medicines: antibiotics and antihistamines and a host of herbal remedies.  Along with the bag he hands me some advice: drink tea with honey and lemon, and pray.  I am shocked to hear him say this.  He spent more than half his life in the atheistic Soviet Union, has a degree is some scientific area.    When I tell him I never pray he appears as shocked as I am.  How is it possible I asked myself, that after 80 years of atheism, he – and he is not alone – turn right back to embrace religious superstition?

With words both precise and poetic Marx explains the magnetic appeal of religion: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.Marx, K. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of RightCollected Works, v. 3. New York.  Even before he says this he tell us: But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world,

But the tease here is Marx’s use of the pronoun “this” – the world he is speaking of is capitalism, and religion appears as the product of the state and society.  But the negation of this statement is also true.  In Marx’s own construction of “human nature”  he identifies man’s needs and the fact that he must go over into and appropriate nature to fulfill these needs, as humanity’s motive force.  Initially, and in primitive societies, humans find themselves in a natural world which threatens their very survival in a multitude of ways; dangerous creatures, natural disasters, drought, floods, the elements themselves. The fear of death and the concomitant feeling their own powerlessness to control these threats to their survival, and as yet without the technological means to do so, the response of human beings is to attempt to control theses forces via prayers, rituals, sacrifice, magic etc.  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41082/41082-pdf.pdf.  I would argue that it is the terrifying power of an existence tied to nature which gives rise to religion, to society and to social relations of production.

It is not enough to say that the history of all societies is the history of class struggle.  This does not, except in a very indirect and convoluted way, explain the Patriarchy and the oppression of women.  For this we need a theory of the Modes of Reproduction, for just as in class societies there are those who labor to produce what all people need, while the means for that production is owned by the few, so too in Patriarchal society, those whose bodies carry life within them, yet do not own or control their own bodies, which are controlled by males.  So too, religion born of the same human fears, gives rise to priestly classes and institutions which control human beliefs.  These classes and these institutions know that their power rests on the fact that they, as Marx tells us, provide “the general theory of this world.”  Just as the capitalist class is threatened by the working class, and just as Patriarchy is threatened by women rising up against their oppression, so too, religion, and the priestly classes which form around it and shape it,  is threatened by the real theory of the world: science, and so faith confronts reason and is afraid of it, and tries to destroy it.

In the struggle of the priestly classes to survive, they must first of all, expand and defend their particular realms of faith, and second of  all war against, not only science, but against every other kind of belief which might challenge their own.

This war is a war of opium lord against opium lord.  Just as it can be said that the history of society has been the history of class struggle, or the history of the oppression of women, we can say that all of recorded history is a history of this war between religions for hegemonic control over the hearts and minds of the people.  They have been brutal and bloody wars: think of all those who died during the Inquision, of the Jews who were persecuted because they were Jews during the Holocast, think of the European wars of religion.  Read ShantanuDutta’s revealing piece (https://countercurrents.org/2018/05/22/witch-hunting-with-impunity/), about women killed in India because were accused of being witches and remember their sisters burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for the same reason, killed by the Protestants of America for the same reason.  Think of the Muslim man in India, killed because he slaughtered and eaten a cow. Think of all the innocents killed in the name of Jihad and Sharia law. And when you speakofthe horrible slaughter of people in Palestine by the Israeli state, know too, they were also the victims of an opium war.

To be a radical means not only to fight for the rights of the oppressed, of the poor, of the downtrodden, of the exploited, of the discriminated against– It means to fight against all religions, against all superstitions, all assaults on reason and science.  It is not just the patriarchy nor capitalism, nor racism which must be overthrown – it is the Opium Lords as well.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B. Become a Patron at Patreon Subscribe to our Telegram channel


One Comment

  1. Gurbachan Singh says:

    Total lie and misquote of Marx to sidetrack the fight against imperialism.