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Marxism as Religion?

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SOME people have no doubts about the proposition, ‘Marxism is a religion.’ It could be argued that the bulk of literature supporting the view that Marxism is a religion is so great that it cannot easily be set aside. On the other hand there is the fact that this literature is written almost exclusively by non-Marxists. Marxists differ in their view of the primary nature of Marxism, but along quite other lines than these. Some see it as primarily a philosophical system, others as an economic analysis and programme, while yet others regard it as primarily concerned with political action. This third view is held, for example, by Robin Blackburn:

The real originality of Marx and Engels lies in the field of politics, not in economics or philosophy…. Unfortunately, there has been an increasing tendency in twentieth-century Marxism to identify the philosophical method of epistemology employed by Marx or Engels as their crucial contribution, and to represent these as the touchstones of Marxist orthodoxy. In different ways this is done by the Lukács of History and Class Consciousness, the exponents of Soviet Diamat and Louis Althusser and his collaborators in Reading Capital. There is little equivalent insistence on the originality of the political conceptions of Marx and Engels…. Moreover, it is evident that all the major divisions of Marxism have arisen over directly political questions, which have thereby furnished the critical determinants of Marxist ‘orthodoxy’. This does not mean that philosophical or epistemological disputes have had no significance for Marxism. It does mean that they have emerged as secondary by-products of conflicts over substantive political questions.1


  • Traditional Religion
  • Class Consciousness
  • Theistic Belief
  • Philosophical Method
  • German Idealism

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  1. T. B. Bottomore and Maximilien Rubel, Karl Marx; Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy (1963), p. 25 (emphasis added).

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  2. Adam B. Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks (Fontana edn, 1969), p. 182.

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  3. Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. 2 (1962), p. 255.

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  4. J. E. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1950), p. 5.

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  5. Eugene Kamenka, The Ethical Foundations of Marxism (2nd edn, 1972), p. 198.

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  6. George Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (2nd edn, revised, 1964), p. 24.

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  7. Robert G. Wesson, Why Marxism? (1976), p. 29.

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  8. Vatro Murvar, ‘Messianism in Russia: Religious and Revolutionary’, in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 10, no. 4 (Winter 1971 ).

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© 1980 Trevor Ling

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Ling, T. (1980). Marxism as Religion?. In: Karl Marx and Religion. Palgrave, London.

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