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Religion and Revolution

category international | religion | feature author Monday March 09, 2009 19:17author by Wayne Price - personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

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While I personally do not belive in God, I am against any "militant atheist" anti-religious campaigns. It is our practical political opinions which are important on whether anarchists can work together (abortion, GLBT liberation, sex, pacifism), not our views on God.

So long as there are states, we raise the old bourgeois-democratic demand of “separation of church and state.” The church is free to say anything it wishes about abortion rights and to try to persuade its followers. But it must not be able to impose its views by the power of the police and the courts. Separation of church and state also means that there must be no government-imposed atheism as under the so-called Communist states.

Religion and Revolution

by wayne price

"My country is the world. My religion is to do good.”—Tom Paine, U.S. revolutionary democrat and deist.
There has been a rise in the number of recent books criticizing religion. Sometimes called “the new atheism,” they have attracted an audience partially due to a revulsion against the religious right. Christian fundamentalists entered politics as pawns of the far right, supporting big business, military intervention, and the repression of women and GLBT people. This provoked a backlash among many people. Meanwhile, the current enemy of the U.S. empire is no longer the “godless Communists,” as it was during the Cold War. Instead it is a fanatical, authoritarian, wing of Islam, which uses God to justify mass murder. While this leads some people to say that this proves Christianity or Judiaism to be superior to Islam, others conclude that all religious fanaticism and authoritarianism are bad. (Note: by “religion” I do not mean a search for meaning or a cultural identification, but a belief in a supernatural being, a god.)

The traditions of the revolutionary far-left are generally anti-religious, for good reasons. Down through the ages, almost all religions, at least the established, organized, ones with sacred writings, have supported the existing states and ruling classes (as well as oppression of women and general sexual repression). Even those which have implied criticisms of the establishment have counseled passivity and withdrawal. Naturally we who have been committed to the overthrow of all rulers have opposed these views. The very concept of “obeying” a Supreme Authority is abhorrent to many freedom-loving people.

By definition, religions look to another world and internal, spiritual, transformations of individuals to relieve suffering. But radicals think that the solution for suffering lies in this-worldly practical activities by masses of people to change the actual social system (or other material methods of ending suffering, such as scientific medicine to cure diseases). This is basically a different orientation from the religious approach.

Not surprisingly, modern schools of revolutionary socialism, both anarchism and Marxism, were founded by people committed to atheism. This includes Michael Bakunin as well as Karl Marx, and their comrades and co-thinkers. Bakunin hated religion and the churches, calling for them to be “abolished,” along with the state and capitalism. Marx developed a “materialist” conception of the world which had no place for a god. Unlike Bakunin, Marx did not advocate a focus on religion while opposing capitalism, regarding it as a private matter. But later, Lenin and his followers insisted on fighting religion, calling this “militant atheism.”

Revolutionary Religion

Yet there has also been a minority tradition of religious rebelliousness. It has used the slogans, “No master but God” and “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” During the bourgeois-democratic revolutions (which laid the basis for industrial capitalism), several revolutionary movements expressed themselves in religious terms. Some, such as the Anabaptists in central Europe, or the Levellers in Britain, forshadowed modern socialism.

A materialist point of view would say that religion is not a crude matter of ignorance but a response of human beings to their material existence, their real activity. This included the reality that there was great suffering and injustice in most people’s lives. Yet, for most of human existence, it was not objectively possible to end class society, given the low level of production (up until past the beginning of the Industrial Revolution). Yet the desire existed for freedom, cooperation, and an end to toil. Such human values were expressed in the only way they could be, through religion. So along with its expression of the acceptance of oppression, religion also expressed people’s hope for an end to oppression, for a world of peace and plenty, of freedom and mutual aid. Religion preserved such ideals for the time when they could become real in practice—and still they are often expressed in religious terms.

When Marx referred to religion as the “opiate” of the people, it is usually misinterpreted as though he was saying that religion was addictive. But in his day, opium was widely used as a painkiller, and he was saying that religion served to dull the pain of people’s suffering under capitalism—but that now it was possible to end suffering caused by social conditions.

In the history of socialism, there has been a minority of religious socialists, such as recent Latin American, Catholic, advocates of “liberaion theology” or some of the African-American, Protestant, advocates of “Black liberation theology.” Among anarchists, the most famous Christian was Leo Tolstoy, although Jacques Ellul, better known for his critique of technology, was also one. Probably the most wide-spread anarchist ppublication in North America is the Catholic Worker, founded by Dorothy Day. The Jewish theologican Martin Buber was influenced by anarchist-communism. The Hindu Gandhi was not an anarchist (he founded the Indian state!) but he was a decentralist, and exchanged letters with Tolstoy.

Also, in modern times we have learned that it is possible for atheists to take power, with their own brand of “naterialism.” And these atheists, these Marxist-Leninists, created as much oppression, injustice, and suffering as all the ages of God-sanctioned rule. Atheism, in itself, is not the solution.

Why I Do Not Believe in God

While I reject “militant atheisim,” in either Bakunin or Lenin’s conception, I personally do not believe in God. I prefer to call this “humanism,” since “atheism” is only negative (what I do not believe in) rather than positive (what I am for), a human-centered and naturalistic approach to values and ways of living. A humanistic approach leaves me open to working with religious people. But first, why don’t I believe in God?

Aside from the point that we no longer need God to explain the world’s workings, is the fact that the world we live in just does not fit with the concept of God. God is supposed to be all-powerful, the creator of everything. At the same time, He is supposed to be all-good, the fountainhead of all goodness, kindness, and justice: “God is Love,” they say. Plainly we do not live in a world run by such a god. Without denying the existence of love and joy, there is too much misery and injustice in this world for it to be possibly run by an all-good, all-powerful, being. It doesn’t compute.

Theologicans call this “the problem of evil.” They account for it by referring to “free will.” Since God gives people free will, they say, people must be able to chose evil instead of good. This may explain why God “allowed” the Hutu militias in Ruanda to commit genocidal murder against the Tutsi (although it seems rather hard on, say, the Tutsi children, whose free will was not given room to develop). But it does not explain suffering caused by natural events, such as the tsunami in the Indean Ocean or epidemics. Free will has nothing to do with it. Granted that human action may make natural disasters worse or better, but that is the point, that only human action (advances in science, technology, and social organization) can decrease suffering, not reliance on God.

Why I do not Believe in “Militant Atheism”

However, this does not altogether end the discussion. Regardless of God, humans will continue to look-for-and-make meanings. We seek-and-commit-to values and purposes for ourselves and our communities. Whether these are graven in the fabric of the universe or not (and I think not), we develop these out of the stuff of the world and our human relationships. Science contributes to this (science itself is based on the values of truth and knowledge) but science as such does not provide the answers.

Humans think not only in left-brain, logical, analytical, linear fashion, but also in a right-brain, wholistic, simultaneous fashion. We express our views of the world and community in analogies, metaphors, images, and ceremonies, with individual and group art, music, and poetry. Compared to science, this way of thinking is neither right nor wrong, just different. A free future society will create its own art, its own philosophical metaphors, and its own public ceremonies, whether they resemble today’s religions or not.

Today, however, we live under capitalism, along with racism, sexism, sexual repression, and an alienated way of life. Of course many people look to religion to relieve their pain and give their lives meaning. Many feel they need a powerful but loving father-figure to protect them, whatever the reality. If we were to wait for most people to become atheists before having a revolution, we will wait forever. From a materialist analysis, capitalism creates popular religion, and religion will not die out until capitalism itself will be ended and a new social reality is created.

What really is the problem with religion? It is not that workers believe in a supernatural god. It is what goes along with it. Thinking that they know the thoughts of the Almighty, so many believers claim the right to impose their views on everyone else. Knowing the Absolute Truth, or so they think (lacking the virtue of humility), they feel that they can deny women the right to abortions, prevent youth from having sex, discriminate againt Gays (or kill them), whip up war fever, and denounce anyone who rejects capitalism. It must be said that this is no worse (or better) than the Marxist-Leninist atheists who also think they know the Absolute Truth, as revealed by Karl Marx, as carried out by the Historical Process—and that this permits them to set up dictatorships and murder millions of people.

So long as there are states, we raise the old bourgeois-democratic demand of “separation of church and state.” The church is free to say anything it wishes about abortion rights and to try to persuade its followers. But it must not be able to impose its views by the power of the police and the courts. Separation of church and state also means that there must be no government-imposed atheism as under the so-called Communist states.

Ultimately, the only complete separation of church and state will occur with the abolition of the state. In a socialist-anarchist society, people will be free to associate with each other in religious, cultural, or philosophical societies, if they wish. If the churches are right, then under freedom there will be a flowering of religion. In my opinion, however, the present day religions are likely to die out and new, nontheistic, worldviews will develop.

Right now, humanistic antiauthoritarians should be willing to work together with people who have all sorts of views on religion and philosophy. There should be no barriers set up in our revolutionary organizations. But there should be discussions of real political issues. Many anarchists who are religious are pacifists. While I respect their views and am willing to work with them, I think this is a political error. I do not think we should be in the same revolutionary organization. Dealing with religious radicals, it is important to know their views on women’s reproductive rights and on Gay liberation. These issues may or may not be important areas of disagreement. In any case, it is such immediate issues which most need to be discussed, not how we think the universe is ultimately organized.

Written for

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Fri Mar 06, 2009 19:13Report this post to the editors

Wayne, first of all it is a real pleasure to have you back with your taboo/dogma-challenging thoughts. Your articles were greatly missed for a couple of months.

On the article itself, I think it is important for the anarchist movement to move away from patronising stereotypes of religion and to move our emphasis from "ideology" to "politics". Certainly if people believe or not in resurrection it is of no relevance to fight against a repressive regime or for better life standards for the working class. As you say, many people have actually been politically influenced by radical religious views and in revolutions and mass movements the vast majority of religious people end up fighting alongside the usually atheist revolutionary minorities. The Christian anarchists you mention are not necessarily the closest to our brand of anarchism, but remember that Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis and Gustav Landauer also held Christian views and they were leading forces in the early 20th Century anarchist movement -and their views did not prevent them from being class struggle anarchists in the case of the former, nor take an active part in the German 1918 revolution in the case of the latter!

It is important as well to put the record straight on Bakunin's theological views -his criticisms are directed mainly towards the Churches and their ideology. In his classic work "Philosophical Reflections on the Divine Ghost, the Real World and Man"* from 1870, while talking about nature, reality and the universe, Bakunin states clearly that:

"(...)all of the infinite amount of actions and particular reactions, while combined in a general and unique movement, produces what we call life, solidarity and universal causality, nature. Call it god, call it the "absolute" if it pleases you, it does not really matter as long as you don't mean by it anything else than what I have just mentioned: that of the universal, natural, necessary and real combination -which in no way is pre-determined, pre-conceived, or foreseen- of all that infinite number of actions and particular reactions that all things existing exercise on one another".
(my translation)

This quotation is often overlooked, but it indicates that Bakunin opposes the idea of God inasmuch as used as an argument to oppress (and there are historical reasons why this has been more often than not the case). Bakunin's anti-theologism is mostly a radical form of coherent humanism.

As someone whose early political influence before anarchism was liberation theology, I'm often worried in the way we alienate people sometimes unnecessarily from our political views, while mixing in the same bag our correct criticism of religions with the faith people may or may not hold. I think there is some Jacobin flavour in some "militant atheist" anarchism, which misses one significant point: religious views are mostly an emotional feeling, not a rational discourse. And which often have an over-simplistic analysis of reality, dividing (particularly in relation to the Middle East) the political landscape into "good" secularist and "bad" religious people. This is not only simplistic but often wrong: is the PKK better than Hizbullah, because they are anti-religious? Is Fatah better than Hamas because the former is secularist? I have my doubts.

When we wrote the article "Turkey: modernisation, authoritarianism and political Islam" (which was published in Red & Black Revolution issue 13, Ireland) one of my implicit objectives was to challenge that simplistic view and show that reality is far more complicated than that and that the secularists can be as bad or worse than the religious political currents...

Thanks for putting your ideas on the issue together.

*(my own translation of the book title as I know it in Spanish "Consideraciones Filosóficas sobre el fantasma divino, el mundo real y sobre el hombre" -probably title is translated differently in English)

author by Akaipublication date Fri Mar 06, 2009 22:35Report this post to the editors

As you say, whether or not a person believes in the resurrection is of no significance to fighting capitalism etc. - but whether or not a person gets brainwashed by his priest into believing that gays are destroying the world, ecologists are killing children (today's headline in the main Catholic paper in Poland) , Muslims are a threat to Western civilization , gays shouldn't teach in schools (a postulate supported by TRADE UNIONISTS in Poland), Jews are in a secret alliance to exploit the world, etc. etc. - this IS of significance because this bullshit is tearing people apart, getting them involved in culture wars, etc.

I understand the point you guys want to make, and I also understand that there are 'progressive" churches, but where they are one of the main forces of reaction and a cradle of right-wing conservatism and anti-communism the institution is important to attack. This is not the same as a militant atheist campaign, but often the lines getted blurred.

author by akaipublication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 00:25Report this post to the editors

Hmm, the first comment I wrote disappeared. I wonder what was so objectionable in it (besides being longish). Anybody care to explain?

author by Anarkismopublication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 03:30Report this post to the editors

Checking the internal admin website, your comment does not seem to have been sent at all.

What may explain what happend is that when it takes you too long to write a comment, it can't be sent for technical reasons. Always make sure you copy long comments and then paste them in a fresh comment form.

Apollogies for any incovenience this technical problem causes.

author by Waynepublication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 04:41Report this post to the editors

Jose's experience as influenced by liberation theology before becoming a revolutionary anarchist is an important example. His quotation from Bakunin is also interesting, although Bakunin said all sorts of different things at different times.

Akai''s point is important. Of course we must oppose the reactionary politics of the Catholic Church. But we should do so without directly attacking the deeply-held emotional beliefs of its followers in (their version of) the Christian religion. During the US civil rights movement, the Church declared that racism was a sin, a declaration which had a positive impact especially in Catholic parts of the South. Now it declares that abortion is a sin. So it can do good things and bad things--but using the same method, of top-down revelation. However people are capable of separating their support for the Church from their opinion of its policies. For example, most Catholics today use birth control, against the firm teachings of the bishops (as demonstrated by polls and by the size of Catholic families).

author by Christopher Hobson - The Utopianpublication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 05:28Report this post to the editors

In Wayne's essay there is a lot I agree with: atheism as his own philosophical position, rejection of "militant atheist" antireligious campaigns, and understanding of why people do believe in religious systems. I'd like to take issue with one point.

Wayne writes, "By definition, religions look to another world and internal, spiritual, transformations of individuals to relieve suffering. But radicals think that the solution for suffering lies in this-worldly practical activities.... This is basically a different orientation from the religious approach."

I think the idea that religions "look to another world" and only to "internal, spiritual, transformations of individuals" and that this is definitional, is too simple. There are also plenty of people who find in religion a basis for struggling for this-world, social change. They aren't necessarily a minority, the anabaptists etc. that Wayne mentions. The U.S. civil rights movement was largely driven by such people. The thinking such people use is: "There is a God, and a righteous God of justice. Since this is the case, we should do all we can to struggle for change, trusting in God that we will ultimately succeed."

Or as Francis Grimke, an African American minister in the dark days of post-Reconstruction reaction in the U.S., said in 1898: "The agitation must go on; the demand which we are making for equal recognition of our rights...must never be relinquished...[but] in the midst of the conflict, while we are doing all we can...we are at the same time to lay fast hold of the Almighty, to keep ourselves and our wants ever before Him, and to look to him for help in every time of need." Rather than argue this point at more length, I'd invite people to look at my article "Francis Grimke and African American Prophecy," which can be found on the Utopian website: > Archives > Vol.5.

So I think it is limiting to say, in effect, "religion is a damper on people's will to struggle, but we should be patient and understanding in coping with their mistakes." (I hope I'm not caricaturing Wayne.) Religion can be a spur to struggle and a source of strength against discouragement, as it was for Grimke and others And there is no real indication that as a group, atheists and materialists have struggled harder for justice than religious people.

Christopher Z. Hobson, New York

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author by Waynepublication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:05Report this post to the editors

Christopher, my comrade from The Utopian journal, makes an important point. Religion can inspire individuals and large numbers of people to fight for justice, peace, and a better world. I thought I said this, but I did not emphasize it enough. I noted that religion, historically as well as today, preserved and expressed humanistic values of justice, peace, and a nonalienated way of life. I noted that "During the bourgeois-democratic revolutions, several revolutionary movements expressed themselves in religious terms." (The point about the Anabaptists was that they forshadowed socialism.) However, as Chris points out, this appears to contradict my statement that religion is inward-seeking and other-worldly, which would need to be explained further. So I should have emphasized and discussed this point better. Especially since, in any US revolution, we may expect many people to not only have religious ideas but to also be inspired by their religion in the struggle.

Religion is not necessarily a good guide to this-worldly activity, however. During the US Civil Rights movement which Chris mentions, the white racist Southerners were also religious Christians (as a humanist-atheist it is not my place to say if they were "really" Christians). For that matter, the Christian advocacy of nonviiolent action led King and others into liberalism and support for the Democratic Party. Eventually he was countered by a more secular Black Power conception among many. When Malcolm X became a revolutionary, he split his religious (Muslim) organization off from his secular political organization.

While I do not think that Chris is deliberately caracaturing me, I do not believe that "religion is a damper on people's will to struggle, but we should be patient and understanding in coping with their mistakes." I believe that religion can put a damper on people and/or it can inspire them to heroic heights of revolutionary struggle. It depends on various things. The same is true of anarchism, which may be expressed in reformist or revolutionary forms. And we should be patient with everyone's mistakes.

Of course Chris could respond that any system of morality and vision of justice can be interpreted in various ways, either good or bad. I have to agree. Certainly many dedicated atheist-materialist socialists interpreted their ideas to mean support for totalitarian state capitalist nightmares. To repeat, atheisim as such is not the answer.

author by shaun - I'll join any organization in NYC that isn't defunctpublication date Sat Mar 07, 2009 23:14author email teleflux at yahoo dot comReport this post to the editors

I agree with a lot of what's been said. One point I'd like to bring up is that this kind of discourse is centered around western religions that are monotheistic. Buddhism and Daoism on the other hand don't actually look for solutions to problems in an imaginary after life, but are more centered around personal spiritual growth. Although there are gods in buddhism, they're really not important. What is important to buddhism is Buddha's humanist philosophy. I think there is much that an atheist could learn from the teachings of the Buddha or the teachings of Chuang tze, Lao tzu, etc... Of course an atheist could probably learn a lot from the teachings of Jesus, but I personally am so disgusted by the way Christianity has been used recently, that I'm not likely to pick up a bible. Woody Guthrie's Jesus Christ, however has my full support.

Its also worth noting that although these eastern religions aren't centered around a belief in a supernatural god, in the east they are plagued by many of the same problems as western religions. The first Buddhists were drop outs of society, but then as it became an established religion monasteries were sponsored by kings. So although a belief in a supernatural God can be a philosophical barrier to struggle, the more material problem is the hierarchical and patriarchal nature of religious institutions that historically have been closely allied with the state.

Religion also didn't begin with capitalism. There is definitely a material basis in capitalism or feudalism for many modern religious beliefs, but religion has been present in every society, including pre-capitalist societies that many of us would consider communist. Religion, curiously is a cultural universal. (not many things are, like war for instance is not). I predict an anarchist revolution would be accompanied by a large scale spiritual rebirth. To paraphrase our friend Nietzsche: What a pity to have one god. How many more could we have created?

The rest of this post is way off topic.

Nietzsche also preferred gods that dance. Emma Goldman preferred revolutions that have a positive attitude toward dancing. In the 1983 film Flashdance written by Joe Eszterhas (screenwriter of Basic Instinct and Showgirls) a memorable line is "When you give up your dream you die" which is strikingly similar to Emma Goldman's statement "When we can't dream any longer we die." I haven't actually seen the movie Flashdance, but I assume it is all thinly veiled anarchist propaganda.

author by Ilan S. - AATW; ainfos; Matzpen;publication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 00:08author address Tel AvivReport this post to the editors

Human brain is much more complicated than the "instincts" and physiological house keeping.

"Believes" are just another name for "opinions". Believing there is a God is just an old and rooted superstitious opinion most people have.

Believing in a specific religious trend is a kind of adherence to a political party. Most people think it is according to their interests in this and in the fictitious after life word - all of them are mistaken one way or another.

José Antonio Gutiérrez D. wrote:
"Is Fatah better than Hamas because the former is secularist?"
I can answer him with a question:
"Is the cucumber more green than long?"

In a multi dimensional world there is no one dimensional answer of "Fatah is/or-is-not better than Hamas.

From the ideological religious perspective the reply is obvious:

The Hamas want to force on the region the Sharia code of Islam which is much more reactionary than the one secular democratic state for Jews, Christians, and Muslims proposed by the Fatah.

The fact that the corrupt Fatah leadeship compromissed with Israel and imperial powers and the Hamas did not do the same after it was initiated by Israel is beside the point.

There is no one dimensional effect of belief in God. One can do that but do not addher to any religious sect.

Our main enemy is not the fictitious God. Nor religious believes or sects per se, but the specific religious sects and the specific political/social trends they promote.

We can cooperate in the class struggle with lot of people we agree only in part with - regardless or their religious belief or even because of it when it direct them to the same direction we go at the time.

(In Israel, we cooperate with specific organization of Rabies peace - I.E. against the occupation.)

There is no reason to attack the belief in God as there is no gain from attacking any wrong opinion - it is better done in good argumentative mode in the specific context the wrong opinion is the most harmful.

(In the joint demonstrations against the separation fence in Bil'in, we do not find that 4 ways theological polemics can contribute to the struggle.)

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author by Dave B - world socialist movementpublication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 03:39Report this post to the editors

Regarding Wayne’s opening piece I actually skipped lightly over one of the aspects of it myself recently on Libcom I think as regards to religion being in part an expression of frustrated and repressed political and economic wishes.

Question about Max Stirner

Post 21 Feb 20 2009

"I believe that Stirner’s book was in fact at least in part an attack on Marx who was at that time a Feuerbachian.


At the risk of over simplifying things Feuerbach’s ideas weren’t that much different to the ‘flower power’ movement of the 1970’s. Where the general notion was that everyone should just go out and love each other mixed in with a bit of pragmatic radical political action and analysis which would solve the problem.

Feuerbach believed that the essence of Christianity eg the good stuff about sharing stuff, looking after each other and the

Acts 2:44-45 (New International Version)

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Was the expression of aspects of social feelings that were innate, or human nature if you like. As these social feelings could not be fully expressed in reality due to capitalism or whatever. They had to be lived out in a fantasy, which was what religion was.

Ignoring the further distortions and perversions that the ruling class made of it in the ‘organised religions’ that were under the control of the ruling class etc.

These alleged social feeling of wanting to be good to others were ‘projected’ onto your ‘God’. Depending on what kind of God you believed in, the idea being that the personality of the God you believed in or the one you choose was a reflection of your own innate value systems and personality if you like.

(Not omitting that your personality could be influenced by cultural or material conditions and that could be mixed in with it as well.)

Whether you believe in post Freudian psychoanalysis or not, this is an observed phenomena and is called ‘projection’, which was what Feuerbach called it, before psychoanalysis.

Whether or not these repressed aspirations that could reappear in a different form eg Christianity, were innate or just ‘political’ was part of the human nature argument. So the argument actually persisted in a more materialistic form. Eg "

This Feuerbachian idea, which is found in Ludwig’s Essence of Christianity, needs to understood I think to get a proper idea of what Karl was on about with his Opium of the people thing.

I think Wayne’s take on it is a reasonable one, although for me it would be more a matter of ‘escapism’ into a fantasy ‘world’ that was more desirable. Even if the ‘fantasy world’ isn’t real, at least the desires and the ‘relief’ are.

There is a almost readable resume on this kind of thing in;

Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy

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author by Waynepublication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 05:27Report this post to the editors

From an exchange on the nycanarchist list.

Comments from a NYC anarchist:

While I greatly appreciate comrade Wayne's thoughtful perspective on
revolutionary anarchism, I respectfully part with him on this issue. I hope
that his opposition to us "militant atheists" would not extend to siding with
the jihadists against us (christian, jewish, muslim, or otherwise) who continue
to torture the world with their deadly celebration of irrationality and corrupt
psychological and sexual manipulation of the most vulnerable people.
Separation of state and church is insufficient to extricate society from the
evils of religion. It must also be boldly confronted and exposed in education
and in public forums if we are ever to crawl out from under it's bootheel.

My response:

In my essay on anarchism and religion , I thought I made it pretty clear that I opposed all jihadism, all fanatical and authoritarian religious programs--just as much as I oppose atheists and materialsts who are fanatical and authoritarian, such as Marxist-Leninists (who, among other crimes, have also murdered atheist-anarchists like James) Of course I am not against your expressing anti-religious, anti-church, views, any more than I wouild censor pro-religious views. In the essay, I explained openly why I did not believe in God. But I am against making this a major activity of anarchist organizing.

I doubt that most people will ever be extricated from religion so long as we live under a capitalist society. A materialist analysis would indicate that it is the suffering and confusions of people in our alienated and oppressive society which causes them to look to God--and it will require the real experience of living in a free, cooperative, society for religion to die out.

In any case, it is the particular program of these religious reactionaries ("jihadists") to use the power of the state (courts, legislatures, and police) to enforce their views upon everyone else. Opposition to their having state power is the "separation of church and state." And the way to end state enforcement of religion (that is, to separate the church from the state) is ultimately to end the state.

author by Kevin S.publication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 11:49Report this post to the editors

I like this essay a lot. I basically agree with Wayne's point, and I too am tired and also wary of "militant atheism" (or as my brother says, "atheist zealots") for a couple reasons while also distrusting religion. Personally, I am more of an agnostic and skeptical of all established theories on "creation" and "evolution" -- as I sometimes say, agnostic with scientifically theistic leanings and morally atheistic leanings. That is, I am not a "zealot" when it comes to (anti-)religion, but besides secularism I also tend to argue against moral teachings based on "what God says." But that is secondary and politically insignificant to me, except as it demands a skeptical, secular approach to the "laws of society" and a rejection of both fundamentalism and of rule by "scientific experts" (a big part of bureaucratic pseudo-socialist theories). Basicially, I agree with Wayne about keeping philosophical discussions of religion vs. atheism outside the main line of political practice, and thus outside our organized work as much as possible (although it should not be taboo, just don't make it a political platform).

I also like Jose's remark here:

"As someone whose early political influence before anarchism was liberation theology, I'm often worried in the way we alienate people sometimes unnecessarily from our political views, while mixing in the same bag our correct criticism of religions with the faith people may or may not hold. I think there is some Jacobin flavour in some "militant atheist" anarchism, which misses one significant point: religious views are mostly an emotional feeling, not a rational discourse. And which often have an over-simplistic analysis of reality, dividing (particularly in relation to the Middle East) the political landscape into "good" secularist and "bad" religious people. This is not only simplistic but often wrong: is the PKK better than Hizbullah, because they are anti-religious? Is Fatah better than Hamas because the former is secularist? I have my doubts."

There is something of an analogy with the religious wars of the French Revolution, in which it is indeed coming close to Jacobinism, more specifically to the infamous war in the Vendee which started with a Catholic fundamentalist rising against the "revolutionary government" (partly inflamed by the mass conscription) which became a war of extermination on both sides, ending in a mass murder (or some say, genocide) of the Vendeans by the republican army. (For some reason, this is much less famous in popular depictions of the Terror than the Paris executions, although it was, in some respects, a much bigger atrocity.) Then there is also the atheist movement in 1793-4 that led into the ridiculous "Worship of Reason" (actually, hated and eventually destroyed by the government faction, who preferred the equally stupid state-religion of the "Supreme Being"), substituting a kind of "cultural revolution," a war against religion in place of real social revolution.

To me, there is a serious problem in the anti-religious movement today that substitutes ideological attacks on popular religion for social agitation against the ruling classes. Indeed, much (not all) of this movement, primarily in the scientific establishment, are closely allied (as some say, "in cahoots") with the ruling classes through their ideological establishments (bourgeois-academia, business and state bureaucracy, etc. -- roughly equivelent in bourgeois society to the feudal Church) as a cornerstone of capitalist-state power. So it is to be expected, in a way, that the "war on superstition" would be turned by these people into a distraction from social questions. Unfortunately, many "radical leftists" are happy to submerge their politics in this kind of "scientific" combat, sometimes even alienating their politics through disdainful insults against the "stupid superstitious masses" with no attempt, devoting more time to fighting over academic curriculum on evolution and religion, than on fighting against social exploitation and oppression by the very powers dominating that curriculum.

There is also a rather eery similarity of the Vendean religious war to today's religious wars in the Middle East. Especially, there is a comparison to be made with movements like Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., in that movements all are popular fundamentalist movements fighting sometimes against mass-murder, but for an oppressive religious-state power also sometimes resorting to (or attempting) mass-murder. The complications that come from this dynamic are beyond equation, and in such a situation social agitation by anarchists becomes at once absolutely important and absolutely difficult. For that matter, in a less extreme form, it is a similar case with some of the fundamentalists in the U.S., specifically, poor and rural people forming the radical backbone of evangical protestantism. Sadly, this popular layer has been cynically used by enterprising churches and right-wing politicians as a base of power against progressive tendencies, turning religious zeal into a political and economic machine. I think it requires a sensitive, sympathetic understanding of religious convictions to be able to confront it in sincere discourse as well as to show effectively to the devout lower classes how they are exploited by the ruling class and the "liberal elite" they hate so much is but one side of bourgeois-state power, the other side of which they recklessly support.

Now, I do have a fairly modest criticism of Wayne's essay, here:

"By definition, religions look to another world and internal, spiritual, transformations of individuals to relieve suffering. But radicals think that the solution for suffering lies in this-worldly practical activities by masses of people to change the actual social system (or other material methods of ending suffering, such as scientific medicine to cure diseases). This is basically a different orientation from the religious approach."

Even though it is true that both the impulse and the logic of most religious faith is "other-worldly" and that religious doctrine dwells considerably on the "next life" or some equivelant idea, nevertheless, it is to flatly define religion that way is severely over-simplifying. Being intimately familiar with some Christian religious teachings (my grandparents are Jehovah's Witness, my family also dabbled in Seventh-Day Adventist, I know a number of conservative fundamentalists, and I myself used to be a strong believer in the Bible, although not part of any church), I can say there is a huge diversity between spiritual teachings and it is by no means a simple concern for the "other-world" even in the hands of, say, jihadists. On the contrary, the main basis and appeal of fundamentalism, heaven and miracles aside, is nearly always as a radical moral teaching for personal life (often also acting as a social or political program), and also a sense of constant, day-to-day presence of God (or sometimes, "Jesus Christ the Saviour") in one's every move as a "spiritual influence." (Not to mention, all the above aside, that religion today is also a "scientific" theory in its own right, or at least operates and poses as such and is more and more seen that way by "believers" although it is rarely treated as such in any serious way by established science.)

Really it amounts to a powerful sense of personal conviction that, in the case of "wilder" movements (many protestant braches, radical "Islamists" etc., even the Catholic peasants of the Vendee -- and of course, some forms of "liberation theology" like in Haiti's Catholic-vodou masses) takes on a deeply rebellious or even "anarchic" side (if also usually, on the flip-side, deeply authoritarian) that is not too-far unrelated to the same rebellious peasant outlook that moves revolutions (e.g. think of Makhno, something of a "fanatic" too). So, I think it can be said fairly that popular religion, especially fundamentalist-type, is dangerous and has to be confronted, but not in the elitist mode of bourgeois-"scientific" (a whole other issue) liberals and academicians. Bourgeois language is not the best way of relating to the people; only a "down-to-earth" (not so heavenly!) relationship to the people, with open-minded and respectful dialogue, can put us on the same level with the people instead being stuck inside the halls of academia.

Sorry, that was a bit long ... and still insufficient!

author by Waynepublication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 13:18Report this post to the editors

Kevin makes the same point as Christopher, that to call religion "other-worldly," as I did, is to underestimate the way it may inspire people's social and political behavior--including inspiring mass movements of the left or the right. I agree that my formulation was not sufficient and even misleading. I will have to think this through.

Let me add something to my response to Christopher. I pointed out that religion is often a poor guide to political action, noting that it has inspired reactionary movements (e.g. the religious right) or liberal misdirection of progressive movements (e.g. the Civil Rights movement). But I noted that materialist views have also often led to bad politics, citing Stalinism. Any vision of justice may be interpreted in good or bad ways.

However, in theory some approaches should lend themselves better to rational and moral thinking while others may be more likely to lead to irrational and immoral thinking. I doubt that a belief in a supernatural god or authoritarian church leaderships tend toward rational thinking. Materialist-humanist perspectives should tend to more useful, more rational, political perspectives. I think that this is true as an abstract tendency. However, people under capitalism are not taught to think clearly and are generally dominated by emotions in their thinking about politics as well as everything else. In particular, the suffering and confusion of their lives creates an immature desire to want to have some authority, some parental figure, to tell us what to do and to look after us. This leads to a desire for a god and for top-down churches. But it also leads secular radicals to want good leaders who can tell them what to think and do--such as Stalin or Mao, Castro or Chavez...or Obama. So in practise, there is as much childish, emotional, thinking on the secular left as there is among the most benighted religious mystics.

author by Kevin S.publication date Sun Mar 08, 2009 16:09Report this post to the editors


Right, my point was similar to Christopher's but not exactly the same, as I was talking less about political behaviour (although it can be a powerful influence on it, as discussed) than about religious conviction being in general a very real, constant part of everyday life especially for fundamentalist religions. For instance, Christian fundamentalists like to say ... "We are that branch of Christianity that takes the Bible literally." (Oddly enough, they do a very poor job at it as far as I can tell, given how many of them identify with cut-throat capitalism that does not sit well with New Testament teachings.) So, it becomes for them an ordinary part of scientific theory, of day-to-day personal behaviour and morality, and psychologically a constant presence (for sincere believers anyway, not the phony preacher-capitalists) like any kind of secular belief, including materialism and humanism (as you mentioned), not to mention more specifically anarchism, communism, capitalism ("moral" or not) etc. etc. But like I said, this a fairly modest criticism as I understand what you are getting at and by and large I agree with you about setting (anti-)religious debate outside of politics as much as possible (although sometimes its unavoidable, mainly with fundamentalists). I also agree with you about humanism and materialism not solving

But as for your main question ... "What furthers irrational thinking?" It is a good and very important question not easy to answer. One problem is defing "irrational" and "rational" thought in the context of religious belief, since on both ends of the debate it is usually thought that the other is obviously irrational. So many "militant atheists" disdain all religious belief as blind faith and superstition, while most "believers" think that atheism is irrational and places blind faith in unproven theories of abiogenesis and evolution (again, I am skeptical myself and more of an agnostic). I have an uncle who is somewhat leftist, a convinced atheist, who openly disdains and mocks religious beliefs, and acts very similarly about my anarchist ideas. I also know a lot of fundamentalists of various stripes, and I have had rational, respectful, serious discussion with some of them about anarchism that showed a lot more rationality than my uncle. That is obviously not a set rule (I have good enough discussions with plenty of other people too), nor does it prove anything about the actual debate, but it does put to the question self-satisfied atheist assumptions about their superior "rationalism."

To me, rational thought is based upon questioning, skepticism, criticism and self-criticism. So, to me, there is nothing rational about assuming that the "experts" of established science have everything right, or putting special faith in "experts" without questioning, criticizing and refusing to subordinate our thought and outlook to what the "expert" has to say. Rational thinking, in this sense, is primarily a demand for truth, so it demands sincerity and also skepticism, maybe a healthy dose of nihilism, but cannot be turned into selfish cynicism or it would be self-negating -- why be honest or sincere if it is not in your self-interest? So rational thought has to be pulled by idealism and ethics, or else it ends up being unprincipled and stops demanding truth. It is also unallowing of self-satisfied assumptions of one's own "superior knowledge" if those assumptions lead one to stop questioning and criticizing, and so demands self-criticism. I would suppose the inverse of the above, then, is primarily what furthers irrational thinking.

author by James - WSMpublication date Mon Mar 09, 2009 08:41Report this post to the editors

“The Christian anarchists you mention are not necessarily the closest to our brand of anarchism, but remember that Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis and Gustav Landauer also held Christian views”

Did Nieuwenhuis remain Christian after he quit being a preacher? I was under the impression he lost his faith. Anybody know more?

It is important as well to put the record straight on Bakunin's theological views -his criticisms are directed mainly towards the Churches and their ideology.

I wouldn’t agree with this interpretation and incline instead towards Wayne’s characterisation in that Bakunin was pretty definite in his opposition to religion. Bakunin’s views appear to go well beyond this as he repeatedly criticised not merely this or that manifestation of the Church, but of its Idealism (in the philosophical sense) as well.

In his classic work "Philosophical Reflections on the Divine Ghost, the Real World and Man"* from 1870, while talking about nature, reality and the universe, Bakunin states clearly that:

"(...)all of the infinite amount of actions and particular reactions, while combined in a general and unique movement, produces what we call life, solidarity and universal causality, nature. Call it god, call it the "absolute" if it pleases you, it does not really matter as long as you don't mean by it anything else than what I have just mentioned: that of the universal, natural, necessary and real combination -which in no way is pre-determined, pre-conceived, or foreseen- of all that infinite number of actions and particular reactions that all things existing exercise on one another".
(my translation)

You interpret this as meaning it"indicates that Bakunin opposes the idea of God inasmuch as used as an argument to oppress (and there are historical reasons why this has been more often than not the case). Bakunin's anti-theologism is mostly a radical form of coherent humanism."

While I’d agree that Bakunin certainly opposed the idea of God due to its tendency in being used in this fashion, he also didn’t think much of the idea of a creator or any type of divine actor.

The above quotation doesn’t read to me like he is allowing for the idea of a creator or any sort of spiritual being at all; rather he is reaffirming the idea that the world as we experience it is a consequence of a myriad combinations of small, utterly unconscious entities (e.g. atoms). Hence, his insistence that they have no foresight regarding their future combinations.

One of the characteristics associated with God, the divine, and spirits generally, is their agency. That is, they have the capacity to act on the world through the conscious application of their intentions. Bakunin consistently denies that any such beings exist and instead views agency as an outcome of evolution, i.e. a long process of building up from simple entities to ever more complex ones.

Bakunin’s opposition to Christianity goes deeper than that of his distaste for its ideological propping up of oppression or even its distinctive doctrines. Christianity is merely an incarnation of what he views as a Platonic or Idealistic world-view which he contrasts with his completely naturalistic beliefs. He viewed Idealism itself – an approach that starts with Ideas and conscious beings as being the original entities and moving from there to the material world – as promoting the disdain of this world and as such is both incorrect and fundamentally at odds with the project of the emancipation of humanity.

When Bakunin says “Call it god, call it the "absolute" if it pleases you, it does not really matter as long as you don't mean by it anything else than what I have just mentioned”, I’d read it as the equivalent of “as long as we agree on the content of materialism, it doesn’t much matter if we use different terms”. Not a particularly useful conflation of terminology in my view, as it opens the door for a misinterpretation into vague spiritualism, but not especially confusing either if read in context of his other output.

author by James - WSMpublication date Mon Mar 09, 2009 09:26Report this post to the editors

I see two basic issues regarding working with religious people:

1. Co-operation in the context of mass, open organisations, e.g. trade unions

2. Membership of a revolutionary organisation.

1. I’m not sure if I’d agree with the description of Bakunin because although he was very definitely atheistic in his world-view, it’s worth noting that he advocated that membership of the International should be on a “minimal” basis with no ideological barriers. So I’d say he was pretty tolerant in practice, given his strident opposition to religion.

I’d hold similar enough views. It’s obviously going to be the case that we have to work alongside with loads of people with different view from ourselves, including religious folks. Within mass or open organisations this is a given.

I tend to disagree with Jose (based on previous discussions) and, possibly, Wayne(?), that we should ignore religious belief per se. Discussing and challenging these beliefs with religious folks is useful. It encourages a critical stance and doesn’t have to lead to alienation of believers.

In fact, sometimes such discussions proves to be a starting point for the development of a greater consciousness about the world. There is no reason to assume that people will permanently adhere to whatever belief system they start out with. After all, how many of us started out as libertarian socialists?

That said, I agree with Wayne that it shouldn’t be a major area of our activity. I’m not aware of any anarchist organisation that spends much time on it.

2. Within the specific political organisation, it is important, I think, that it subscribes to a materialist view of the world as otherwise it just won’t be capable of understanding how it functions.

In its analysis of historical and contemporary events it does so from a material basis. Now that basis can be quite wide and include approaches from history, sociology, economics and psychology etc. What it shouldn’t do, in my opinion, is invoke the supernatural in any form.

So if Bush or Blair start mentioning God or Jesus as a motivation for invading Iraq, we would still look at the underlying economic and strategic reasons and treat their god-talk as either lies for the masses or as a curious psychological overlay on these more fundamental causes. We just wouldn’t waste anytime investigating whether some god really did answer their prayers.

This doesn’t preclude people with spiritual beliefs from membership. It just means that as it stands, the organisation isn’t going to include spiritual/divine/religious type approaches in its attempt to make sense of the world.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Mon Mar 09, 2009 22:48Report this post to the editors

This discussion we've had numerous times in the past and the fact that it remains such an issue for some comrades, remind me of how much anarchism still remains an "ideology" more than a political programme.

On James last comment, we do not have much of a disagreement on level 1. On level 2, one thing is theory, another is practice. I don't have a disagreement with the theory as James put it- in fact, most religious people (the vast majority) will not invoke the "super-natural" as a political argument and those involved in politics would largely be in secular organisations. Those who invoke their religious beliefs as the core of their political ideas will not look for anarchist-communism and will tend to set up their own groups with like-minded people (ranging from Hamas to the Catholic Worker).

The problem is not even analysis: liberation theologists, for instance, will agree with historic materialism and dialectis, etc. as a method for understanding politics and reality and will consider the Bible as a book for inspiration (which, in any case they agree, would be impossible to fully be understood by humans). So the difference, at least with the liberation theologist end of the spectrum would be quite an artificial one.

And even so, this would be solved if anarchists did have an actual political programme on reality, so people would be attracted by what anarchist organisations have to offer in real terms, in actual struggles and not on a set of "beliefs" that seem more like a religious zeal than anything else, with little application to your every day life. The pie in the sky approach to anarchist politics as I call it ("upset? don't pray, organise and occupy your workplace" -what for most people is as real as resurrection).

But that's the theory. In practice, most anarchist organisations remain strongly "militant" in their atheism and largely patronising on religious people (the majority indeed). Inasmuch as I can understand and even sympathize with many of these views, I don't think they are useful to engage with people which are out of the circle: I have never seen a single religious person being persuaded by atheist WSM propaganda. I mean it: Not a single one. And I have a few friends from the Latin American community here to whom I always give the paper. It is like preaching to the converted, as if we were writing this for other atheist so they can re-inforce their own (lack of) faith, but we are not thinking of engaging with the ordinary folk. But I have seen not few people taking a distance from the organisation because of its patronising attitude ("we understand you believe in God, but that's only because you are very oppresses and you are therefore damaged and stupid" type of argument). This is people from Muslim and Christian background that agree with everything of the organisation (abortion, revolution, anti-capitalism, etc.) but who are not willing to be patronised. We should think how to engage with them. And this is a particularly hot issue with immigrants communities, where religion is mixed with identity issues.

author by lama - AWSMpublication date Tue Mar 10, 2009 06:04Report this post to the editors

I just wanted to respond to comments regarding interaction with those who hold religious views and the idea of needing to avoid alienating people. I think that any useful discussion of the nexus between politics and religion has to start from the practical reality that there are far more believers in metaphysical systems than those who disbelieve in them. I think its true to say that this has always been the case and may continue to be. If we anarcho-atheists are serious about wanting an anarchist society, we have to consider that this will require the involvement of the majority of the population and that this will mean either :

1)Converting the majority of folks to an atheist perspective or 2) Accepting the existence of a large group of citizens who believe in some sort of spirituality. While i think 1 is ultimately unachieveable (and if imposed, undesirable), I don't think that means anarcho-atheists should refrain from clearly expressing our views about the fallacies of religious belief. Afterall, some people do change their minds and if you think you are right, theres nothing inherently wrong with trying to convince others of that. Tolerance doesnt mean abdicating your critical faculties or refusing to express ideas strongly just because it might offend somebody/anybody (something I feel some liberals, post-modernists and others are prone to). Rational persuasion that is freely entrered into, isnt imposition. Engagement will require acceptance of the fact that ultimately a sizeable number of people within a future anarchist society will still hold spiritual ideas. Providing this does not take hierachical-institutional forms such as cults, then we will just have to deal with those who are religious. I think thats the best we can do at this stage.

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Tue Mar 10, 2009 06:44Report this post to the editors

Good article, Wayne and also interesting thoughtful comments. As for me, the movement is more important than ideology, so having religious progressives and anarchists is no problem.

author by Adam W.publication date Tue Mar 10, 2009 07:39Report this post to the editors

Wayne, this article is a great starting point and I raises some great questions that I think anarchists ignore at their own peril.

Jose's comments I think take us in the right direction of diagnosing the problem with how anarchists conceive of religion:

"[the problem of anarchists and religious folks] would be solved if anarchists did have an actual political programme on reality, so people would be attracted by what anarchist organisations have to offer in real terms, in actual struggles and not on a set of "beliefs" that seem more like a religious zeal than anything else, with little application to your every day life. The pie in the sky approach to anarchist politics as I call it ("upset? don't pray, organise and occupy your workplace" -what for most people is as real as resurrection)."

I think this hits the nail on the head. Too often I think anarchists tend to fall into this type of 'waving the circle-a flag' approach that amounts to an ideology in the negative sense (as Marx describes). It lacks a dynamic sense of understanding where people are at and what approach will move folks towards what is needed for a revolution to happen.

Anarchists and secular radical/revolutionary opposition to religion during the last 19th and early 20th century isn't understood in any historical sense either. For instance in Spain, Latin America or the Philippines, where the Catholic church controlled huge amounts of land, education and was tied to the state and wealthy. In Europe during the bourgeois-democratic revolution many countries were emerging from decades of bloody civil war between religious factions. Today, when most states are secular (and as far as the religious ones, their ideology I think is better understood as a form of nationalism) and churches do not play the same role in society, it is a completely different situation.

As far as social movements and revolutionary organization, obviously for revolutionary organization a higher level of agreement which would include a material and historical analysis is needed (but I don't think this automatically excludes people having religious/spiritual views), but to show the show an examples of how things have changes, as stated by an above poster people in social movement rarely ever couch their positions in religious terms.

Related Link:
author by ajohnstone - Socialist Party of Great Britain publication date Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:26Report this post to the editors

“As for me, the movement is more important than ideology”

Larry , just how close does this become to Bernstein ie "The movement is everything, the final goal nothing"

The Movement - the class struggle - without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. This is where the Leninists and Trotskyists go wrong. They think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of the struggle as such and thus circumventing the realm of ideology - and I mean by that , the need to educate . It does not. I have yet to hear a convincing argument how you are supposed to become a "revolutionary" without engaging - and eventually agreeing - at some point with the IDEA of what such a revolution would entail .

Related Link:
author by Larry Gambonepublication date Tue Mar 10, 2009 12:59Report this post to the editors

You would interpret it that way wouldn't you? I am using the term ideology in the pejorative sense, not as as synonym for either program or theory. I am all for the latter. Don't assume that people who write or comment here are naive.

author by Jamespublication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 06:28Report this post to the editors

For sure, ideas shouldn’t be separated from practical activity, but one of the roles of anarchists is to argue for ideas. That sometimes takes the form of publishing articles that are ideas based. It hardly means that is all we do nor that it is a counter-productive thing in itself.

Jose:But I have seen not few people taking a distance from the organisation because of its patronising attitude ("we understand you believe in God, but that's only because you are very oppresses and you are therefore damaged and stupid" type of argument). This is people from Muslim and Christian background that agree with everything of the organisation (abortion, revolution, anti-capitalism, etc.) but who are not willing to be patronised.

You’ve repeated the claim that our criticism of religion is patronising. I disagree, if anything it shows a willingness to engage with people and argue our perspective with them. That’s simply not a patronising approach. In politics, we disagree with other folks all the time and engage in discussion with them. I see no reason to ignore such an influential force as religion, although to repeat my above comment, it’s by no means a priority.

Personally, I find your advocacy of avoiding the topic to be condescending towards religious people; it’s as if you think they can’t cope with critical discussion. To balance your acquaintances’ negative reactions, I know plenty of people who are religious and don’t particularly mind reading a critical article. It makes them think and is a bit of a change of pace in the paper as well. I’m not sure how useful it is to generalise from such small samples though.

Jose:I have never seen a single religious person being persuaded by atheist WSM propaganda. I mean it: Not a single one.

The WSM have published a few articles attacking regressive religious influence in schools and maybe a couple on the sociology of Islam etc, but has had only one brief atheist article of about 700 words in the last 7 years (the length of time my memory stretches back). I’d be very surprised indeed if anybody was persuaded to abandon a major belief system on the strength of such a brief article.

Given that we publish some 30,000 words in our paper each year (some 200,000 words in total since 2001) and countless hundreds of thousands more on the internet, I think it should be acknowledged that we put vanishingly little effort into this area and that it would be amazing if anybody actually was persuaded by that little drop in the ocean. As such, I wonder at people’s interest in the WSM who’d get so offended at us that they’d take distance from the organisation over it rather than discuss it with us.

But there is a purpose to advocating atheistic materialism; this thread prompted me to reopen some old Bakunin and he makes the point that the undermining of religious belief from the 18th century on served a very useful purpose in that it weakened the intellectual hegemony of the dominant classes, thus creating space for alternative ideas to gather strength.

Regarding the developing world, where I guess religion plays a vastly more important role in people’s lives than here, perhaps a similar situation applies. For sure, this is sometimes a positive role, but the question we should be asking is whether it is positive overall. Any analysis of human affairs, even class analysis, is going to be rather crude and miss many individual exceptions.

However, if it proves useful in painting an overview of a situation, then it should be continued to be applied. I guess I’d view religious belief as being, on balance, an impediment towards achieving a free society and thus view challenges to its intellectual hegemony as, again on balance, as being productive in the long term.

We should think how to engage with them. And this is a particularly hot issue with immigrants communities, where religion is mixed with identity issues.

While it is true that many immigrants are strongly religious and it is mixed in with identity issues, it doesn’t preclude us from discussing the subject with them or indeed with religious Irish. What to do when a devout Christian colleague denounces homosexuality on the basis that it is against God’s law and they can quote you reams of divine text to back them up? Or when Catholics defend class society with reference to papal encyclicals? Or when an apartheid system for women is run according to solid interpretations of the Koran?

For sure, with some folks the discussion can take place on a surface level and keep to the issue that provoked discussion, but others will challenge the fundamental assumptions underlying our arguments. At this point socialists need to have some intellectual foundation backing up our naturalistic position or we will be rendered speechless.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 08:11Report this post to the editors

James, I really think that you have to stand back and see things for what they are: the fact that I think is patronising is not a claim made just by myself. It is a claim done by people who are active and do stuff at the fringes of the organisation. I can give you names if you want (not through internet though), but I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. It is not just me trying to be nasty, I take this stuff really seriously and am quite frustrated by the way our powerful ideas fall on largely deaf ears because of secondary matters. You can give me statistics about the number of words you have devoted about religion compared to other issues, but that does not change the bottom line: when we write about religion, we fail to engage people. We fail to persuade other people with our arguments. And that's the main objective we should pursue with our written propaganda: challenge people's views and make them think about things by themselves -if we fail to do that, if our writing only reach those who already hold similar ideas, I can see some benefit to that, but a very limited benefit indeed. The day you can claim, "well, atheist propaganda made this and that people think about their religious views and that -somehow- made them be more active in revolutionary terms" is the day I'll find some use to the propaganda devoted to anti-religion. Given the limitations of our propaganda (in terms of spaces, etc.), I don't fancy seeing some of it failing to send a strong message across. Even if it was a small drop in the ocean being wasted, every single drop counts in our propaganda. Too bad the 18th century is over, some 200 years ago in fact...

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 09:11Report this post to the editors

Note that I do believe this problem in our propaganda (failure to engage others who think differently) is not exclusive to our anti-religious propaganda, but it permeates other aspects of it...

author by Larry Gambonepublication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 09:53author email redlionpress at hotmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Unfortunately, Jose, what you say about our inability to propagandize effectively with people who think differently from us is so true. We cannot waste our time with secondary issues if we want to build a movement of working people.

author by Seanpublication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 18:56Report this post to the editors

Jose, I think you are resurrecting a baseless argument on religion which isnt an issue for the wsm. If we followed your general logic we would end up not criticising anything or anyone- oh 'cas they might be offended.'

This my friend has never been the way of any serious coherant anarchist or anarchist organisation that believes in theoritical and tactical unity.

We do not define ourselves as an atheist organisation, although most members would be including myself.

As James has already pointed out we are quite open and constructive in relation to all these issues.

Whether someone does or does not believe in God is not really a major issue for me. What is relevant is there believe in struggling for a better life. This does not mean we should refrain from opposing Islamist fascists in power in places such as Saudi Arabia or the Church here when need be. Given the growing level of anti-clericalism in Ireland it actually makes more sense to tap into this growing dis-content and push it further.

What we do know is that based on historical examples, the Church along with the state and capitalism will be a major barrier in acheiving real freedom and equality. End of!

author by nestor - (fdca - pers. cap.)publication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 19:46author email nestor_mcnab at yahoo dot co dot ukReport this post to the editors

There needs to be a clear distinction in our minds about the differences between being anti-religion and anti-clericalist. Anti-religious propaganda is an extremely unimportant aspect of our work, though not one we should completely ignore if we believe, as many (but by no means all) anarchists do,. that in a future anarchist communist society religion will have no reason to exist. Anti-clericalism is entirely a different matter. In today's capitalist society, clericalists already enjoy too much influence over and too great a role in controlling people. This is true both in extreme cases where the clerics actually run the country, and in places where they are a tool of the ruling classes (Poland, USA, Italy).

Anarchist communists need to be active in anti-clericalist work, seeking to remove the influence of clerics in today's society. There's nothing anti-religious about it.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 20:34Report this post to the editors

Nestor, I do agree fully with your views. In fact, most religious people will disagree with the Churches having the political power they still hold in many countries. We have by all means to oppose any argument used to oppress others -whether is a secular, scientific or religious argument. That's a general anarchist position.

(I do disagree though with the rationalist and Enlightment type of approach which states that in a free society there would be "no reason" to believe in God. I disagree with this view for reasons I already gave -one being that human beings are not rational only creatures, and we love doing things with no evident purpose in our lives-, but also, because I do not think this is the really important issue -whether religion will eventually disappear or not. Actually, I don't care if religion disappears or not, I don't see the benefit of it, and I don't think that atheist are necessarily happier or unhappier people than religious ones. This is largely an irrelevant issue. What is not an irrelevant issue is that beliefs or disbeliefs should not be imposed on people, and as long as they can be respectfully discussed, we need to create a culture of tolerance and where a basic set of agreed values are at the core of society).

Seán: if you want to discuss with a straw-man you can do it. No one is saying that you should not discuss things (neither am I saying that you should oppose religious imposition or authoritarianism). Everything can be discussed, from religion, to veganism to the pleasures of trainspotting. Everything can be debated. The important thing is HOW you do it. And there I can tell you for a fact that anarchists largely tend to fall into patronising discourses that alienate people. We are excellent preachers for the converted -we are awful to win new audiences. You can deny facts, but I'm talking largely from people being turned off by the organisation. It is not a matter of getting defensive, but a matter of trying to improve our propaganda to make it more effective and relevant.

(ps. Are you the same Seán that complained about people comparing Zionism to fascism? If that is the case, your use of Islamist "fascist" seems equally inadequate)

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 20:42Report this post to the editors

Please note that my point is a general one on anarchist propaganda at large, not only on religious issues, but religion is a topic in which all the defects in our propaganda and all of its insufficiencies appear to come together.

author by nestorpublication date Wed Mar 11, 2009 20:54author email nestor_mcnab at yahoo dot co dot ukReport this post to the editors

Sorry José, on re-reading my comment above I see it's a little confusing, the result of too much cut'n'paste editing. I agree with your parenthesis entirely: I meant that many materialist anarchists can't understand the necessity for religion, leading them to be atheists. I also personally know several class-struggle, materialist anarchists who do instead hold religious views, and I consider them no better or worse than myself. In a future anarchist communist society I see no reason why that situation cannot or should not continue. And the distinction between anti-religion and anti-clericalism also seems clear to you (as I would have imagined).

By the way, anti-clericalism is, by necessity, one of the most active areas of the FdCA's work here in Italy, a country where the religious right have the upper hand at the moment and are busy trying to shove their methods of control and bigoted ideas down everyone's throats. Italy's constitutionally-enshrined secularism is very shaky at the moment. But I doubt you will ever see us making criticisms of religions in themselves.

author by Waynepublication date Mon Mar 16, 2009 08:23Report this post to the editors

I am not against anti-clericism, but I am not exactly sure what you mean by that. I prefer to emphasize the separation of church and state, by which I mean preventing the church from imposing its views through the schools, the courts, and the police. Maybe we mean the same thing. Ultimately, the way to prevent the the church from using the state to impose its views is to abolish the state.

author by nestorpublication date Mon Mar 16, 2009 16:50author email nestor_mcnab at yahoo dot co dot ukReport this post to the editors

That's basically what I mean, Wayne. Seems we see eye to eye on this (as I would have imagined!).

author by Jan Makandalpublication date Sat Mar 21, 2009 03:50Report this post to the editors

In a class-based society, there are three broad interdependent levels of structure and practices: the economic system [structure and practice], the political system [S and P] and the ideological system [S and P]. These systems function, inside a social formation, in a relative autonomy and the economic system is determinant, explains the development of the other systems not objectively affecting their autonomy most of the time.

The ideological system (structure and practices):

The ideological level is a system of ideas, representations, conceptions, theory, philosophies, creeds and faiths (…) articulated with a system of comportments, behaviors, ambitions, aspirations, customs, habits, consciousness, emotions (…), (left brain – right brain). Ideology is how people conceive reality and how they live and relate to this reality. Ideology thus serves as the cement of a society; it determines the behavior of various people in their different roles in a society. There is a dialectical relationship between the two systems that make up the ideological structure. There is a dialectical relationship between how people perceive reality and how they live this reality. On the whole, the system of comportments, behaviors, attitudes, aspirations, emotions, (…) plays a determinant role in its relation to the system of ideas, representations, theories, philosophies, (…). It is one s fundamental attitude towards reality that determines how one perceives that reality and how one formulates ideas and plans to transform that reality, even when one’s ideas and conceptions can in turn lead to transforming one’s attitude and emotive rapport to this reality. In our struggle, the aspirations and combativeness of the working class, the fundamental desire of the proletariat to free itself from its oppression, exploitation and domination, is the driving force for the development of a combative class ideology of struggle and liberation. It is the driving force of our political line.

Historical Materialism teaches us that a person’s social consciousness is determined by her or his social practices. This relationship explains the determinant role played by the economic structure in relation to the ideological structure. It is the place and role occupied by one in production (direct labor, supervision or ownership) and their social practices in that role that determine how they perceive their relationships to other people in society.

It is the place occupied by the proletariat in the capitalist mode of production (as a collective of dispossessed direct laborers faced with a common enemy that is exploiting them) that allows the proletariat to develop a revolutionary consciousness, a spirit of solidarity and a collective vision to transform society by getting rid of all forms of private property of the means of production and securing their collective management. It would not make any sense at all for workers to hope to each own their little bit of a factory. Their only option to breaking the chains of capitalist private property and exploitation is to manage their enterprise collectively in the collective interest of all the workers. At the same time, it is also the place occupied by the proletariat as a class dominated and exploited by the capitalists that determines the influence of pro-capitalist ideologies within the proletariat itself. Practices by the capitalists to pit workers against each other as they are forced to sell their labor individually to the capitalist in the labor market, and offering individual promotions and incentives to workers all leads to the diffusion and consolidation of capitalist mentality and ideology within the proletariat: individualism, submission [religion], the “good worker” mentality…

In much the same manner, it is the place occupied by the capitalist class and their role and their practices in that role, particularly in the sphere of production, that determines the influence and hold of individualism, elitism, competitiveness, disdain for the rights of others and the will to dominate, greed… in the bourgeoisie. The very nature of capitalist production pits capitalists in competition against each other in the pursuit of higher profits and in their mandatory domination of those; they must exploit to extract that profit from their labor.

As we can see, each kind of society (feudal, capitalist, imperialist, dominated…) has its own kind of ideological structure, an ideology that characterizes it. We call this kind of ideology an ideological ensemble. Each class is inhabited by a set of ideological elements that make up this ideological ensemble, that is inherent to its social condition, and that make up its own ideological trend. We call this set of ideological elements a class tendency. In class-based societies, each dominated class is inhabited by a subset of this ideological ensemble resulting from a complex of ideological elements that have been imposed and disseminated by the class tendencies of dominant classes and another set of ideological elements that are native to that class and to its social condition. At different conjunctures, the influence of bourgeois ideology in the proletariat can vary, with class struggles determining the complex interplay between these various contradictory and complementary components.

Likewise, a complex of ideological elements that are inherent to its dominant social condition and a smaller subset of ideological elements that result from the influence of other classes through class struggle in this society also inhabit each dominant class.
We can distinguish between different regions in the ideological structure: philosophy, religion, morals, esthetics, humor, science and political ideology… At different conjunctures, in different societies, we can fid that one or more of these regions may play a dominant r ole, on the whole. In a revolutionary period, and in a period of socialist transition, political ideology plays a dominant role.
We should underscore the importance of the relationship between the ideological and political levels, with class struggles intertwined at these two levels, and the outcome of political struggles often determined by the level of ideological consciousness of combatants.

Ideological struggle permeates and penetrates all social practices. In class-based societies, all social practices have class characteristics and a class nature. All social practices have a class brand, a class identity.

An ideological apparatus can play a particular role in societies as an agent of ideological propagation. Some of the most prominent specialize in certain kinds of ideological practices, like religious congregations, media, cultural groups, schools, sports organizations, families… along with certain branches of the state apparatus that specialize in propaganda. Ideological struggles in societies penetrate all these structures, and even when they operate under class based orientations.

The socialist transformation of societies necessitates their ideological transformation as well, based on proletarian ideology, through the class struggle to eliminate all classes. This ideological transformation can at times play a super determinant role in these struggles, meaning that a certain level of ideological transformation can be a pre-requisite to the ability to wage certain struggles and advance in the transformation of the economic and political structures. For examples, in societies with feudal remnants, the proletariat must wage an intense ideological struggle to convince the poor peasantry to adopt collectivization of farming, collective farming methods, and the collective appropriation of the land. Otherwise, landed individual peasants inevitably participate in the regeneration of capitalist production through the inevitable development of small market based trade production. Likewise, the elimination of the state also corresponds to pre-requisite transformations in the ideological structure, generated by socialist transformations in the economic structure.

Religious beliefs and practices of all types are elements of the ideological structure and throughout history they have mainly served the reproduction of reactionary class dictatorships [slavery, feudalism, capitalism, imperialism]. Religions are not immune from class struggles. Because of class struggles and their need to resist, the dominated classes bring their own elements into dominant ideology that can even have some aspect of rectifying dominant ideology in their own interest. The Small Church movement in Haiti is a prefect example of this as are, on a much broader level, Liberation Theology and to a lesser extent, Black Liberation Theology. Also, because of class struggles, not all atheists are progressives or revolutionaries. Some are quite reactionary and pro- capitalist.

The religious problematic should be considered at two levels. 1] The contradictions of the masses against their fundamental enemy. 2] The contradictions within the popular masses. The later must be resolved in a non-antagonistic manner, thru constant political ideological struggle, thru persuasion and most importantly by radically transforming the material social relations producing these ideological tendencies in the popular masses. God and all superior beings need to be rendered null and void. This will not happen by dogmatically combating religions but by our struggle to transform the social conditions. The belief in a superior being hovering over us, the act of praying to that superior being, especially in extreme hardship, is quite therapeutic and objectively contributes in maintaining some level of sanity for free. But, at the same time, it has the objective of demobilizing the masses from finding viable solutions. The solutions will not come from a sterile political line of combating religions but in defining a political line at revolutionary level and the mass level to participate, under the leadership of the working class, in finding short and long-term alternatives.

author by Fatimapublication date Sun Mar 22, 2009 11:18Report this post to the editors

...and many strongwilled people of substance have faith in something or another. It is not meant to divide people or impose itself on anyone else. I would gladly go to church - so long as I found one, open to all Humanists, (materialists or not) whose pews turned into beds, by night and altar into a soup kitchen by day! The golden rule which should be the essence of any spiritual People is often sought after with as much passion as that of any other revolutionary's. Finding a way to filter that passion to a purely Struggle oriented goal should remain a focus for integrity in societies all over the world..

Very interesting article and insightful comments, by the way...

author by Jan Makandalpublication date Mon Mar 23, 2009 09:36Report this post to the editors

To follow from James’ posting in indicating the two levels, the questions of religious people is one out of many ideological elements that shows in reality the importance of the revolutionary level and the mass level. The mass level should really have no ideological barriers. If Bakunin, as mentioned by James, was talking of a mass level, his position was totally correct. The revolutionary level should be totally the reverse and require a high level of ideological barriers and standards. In many of my postings in Anarkismo, I have emphasized that point a lot. It is a rupture from the traditional practices of the left in every denomination. The relative autonomy of the two levels and their respective objective role in organizing the popular masses, in particular the working class, is a fundamental aspect of a general and particular political line and orientation. The working class, in developing its model of mass organization and revolutionary organization, has wrestled with that question from the onset. The continuous reproduction of erroneous practices and the recuperation of these erroneous practices by radical petit- bourgeois elements has led to very ultra-leftist practices, dogmatism, and a fertile ground for bureaucraticism. The result is the formation of bureaucratically control front mass or large organizations by political organizations, a very sterile approach in organizing with an implication of demobilizing the people we tend to organize. There is a need for rectification. One of the first steps is for the revolutionary level to rupture with sectarianism, develop structure outside the mass movements to level their discord guided by a real spirit of unity and a real desire to fight capital. The basic principle guiding these struggle should be a real desire to implement criticism and self criticism and really rectify once we are proven to be wrong and reinforce the correct position. This is the only way for our proletarian science to advance. At the end of the day, amongst our diversity, only one political line will prove to be correct in reality.
The mass level first should not be a front organization. It must not be the revolutionary organization functioning two steps down. It must be a structure where the masses exercise their own brand of popular democracy while at the same time combating bourgeois democracy. The working class needs to build its own mass and revolutionary organization and actively participate in constructing other popular mass democratic organization. The mass organization must be a combative organization with the objective of weakening capital. Their basic unity should be based on a combative platform of struggle. Therefore, you could be an atheist, a Christian from any denomination, a revolutionary from any denomination, as long as we all respect our point of unity, based on discipline and democracy we all could belong to the same mass organization. After all this is the type of society, we are fighting for. The mass organization is the embryonic form at the mass level of that society, amongst our diversity, that we all aspire to bring about. Some ideologies will /may disappear in the transformation of the social conditions.

author by Kevin S.publication date Tue Mar 24, 2009 09:41Report this post to the editors

Again, as a political line to me "anti-religion" makes little sense, although the "anti-clericalism" point mentioned by Nestor makes quite a lot of sense and is, in fact, the main concrete basis historically for the anti-religious aspects of communist and anarchist thought, at least in the more socially grounded elements (e.g. excluding bourgeois intellectual circles playing at "revolutionary" theory, without denying some certainly valuable ideas to come out of that crowd historically). To be sure, theological and/or anti-theological debates have a good place in some philosophical and even scientific settings, but by and large overwhelmingly has been a harmful intrusion on "leftist" political discourse.

On the other hand, at an individual level, I think there can actually be some merit to James' comment here: "Discussing and challenging these beliefs with religious folks is useful. It encourages a critical stance and doesn’t have to lead to alienation of believers." To put a personal aspect to this, I should point out that I myself come from a highly religious background as a convinced Christian (although never in a church, but a biblical student). For awhile I even "dabbled" in anarchist theory and leftist politics while still a strong believer. But honestly, all of these ideas were quite inconsistent and even self-contradicting. My own political and social thinking only began to develop coherently and "freely" once my biblical convictions were shaken to core -- something that, for me, directly resulted from a long and rather harsh debate with an atheist anarchist, which prompted me to critically read and re-evaluate biblical scriptures.

(In fact, at that point I did not even identify as "anarchist" despite having done so for awhile before then ... that is to say, "challenging" my religious beliefs had a powerful influence on me to also re-evaluate political ideas and history, and thus played a crucial role in me arriving at a more coherent, firmly-grounded and consistent idea of anarchism.)

On a separate note, regarding Jan's comments on the "ideological system" etc. etc. ... this is mostly very true, in particular the relation of "political," "economic" and "ideological" power. Something I frequently point out, in fact, is a historical comparison of the bourgeois-academic establishment with the feudal Church, as the main ideological institutions of the ruling class (aristocracy, bourgeois). France, of course, being the "archtype" of these two "models." In the United States it is, historically, a bit more complicated in that protestant religious movements have been more-or-less the ideological spine of both the ruling classes (slaveowners, "white power" and to a lesser extent, entrepreneurial capitalism in the form of the Abe Lincoln type "rugged individualist") and also of numerous radical movements, especially abolitionism and anti-segregation. On top of that, has been the "populist" mobilizing of mass political support through evangical churches, today a cornerstone of right-wing Republicanism. Naturally, the prevalence of religious influence on political ideology is a serious complicating factor that requires addressing, but which the bourgeois "left" is inequipped to do effectively -- a harmful influence on radical politics (bourgeois "leftism," that is), that has only made it harder to address effectively. That "leftist" element being, of course, rooted in the bourgeois-academic scene which is, again, the ideological pillar of today's ruling class.

author by Jamespublication date Thu Mar 26, 2009 21:10Report this post to the editors

Jan: If Bakunin, as mentioned by James, was talking of a mass level, his position was totally correct. The revolutionary level should be totally the reverse and require a high level of ideological barriers and standards.

Here are four excerpts from Bakunin on religion and organisation. The first and second are on the mass organisations, the third and fourth on the political organisation.

The Policy of The International.
From Egalite 1869

…The International, in accepting a new member, does not ask him whether he is an atheist or a believer, whether or not he belongs to a political party. It asks only this: are you a worker…

The Structure of the International
To share in the advantages of this solidarity the worker is not asked about this political or religious beliefs. He is asked only one question: with the benefits, will you also accept the sometimes inconvenient obligations of membership? Will you practice economic solidarity in the widest sense of the word?

From Dolgoff’s Bakunin on Anarchism, p 160 & 253.

Principles of the International Brotherhood
2.1 Denial of the existence of a real, extra-terrestrial, individual God, and consequently also of any revelation and divine intervention in the affairs of the human world.

Programme of the Alliance
Published 1873
1. The Alliance stands for atheism, the abolition of cults and the replacement of faith by science, and divine by human justice.

From Lehning's Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p 64. & p 174.

author by Jan Makandalpublication date Wed Apr 01, 2009 03:39Report this post to the editors

As previously mentioned, I am in agreement with such a position. For me this not only a position it is also a political line that requires a concrete political orientation. There is an ossification of proletarian alternative and ideology. From this recognition, many fundamental concepts of proletarian theory and ideology did not develop or are not developing. The lack of proletarian autonomous struggle did not allow proletarian concepts to fully develop. We need to recognize the contributions of intellectuals and organizations, even some that identify themselves as proletarian, but there is in reality an objective reflux of proletarian struggle. This is a problem. In the dialectical relationship between theory and praxis, political line and praxis are not developing accordingly, in proletarian struggle. The capacity of the working class to really offer an alternative is greatly lacking. There is a general confusion between proletarian struggle and struggle to reform capitalism. I do think the problematic of national liberation struggle falls under this confusion shared by most tendencies of the left.
The agreement with such positions is not because Bakunin is an Anarchist. I am not. It is simply based on my own experience in direct organizing of workers. It is a correct orientation and a just praxis. The autonomous struggle of the working class is the struggle workers are waging to realize their interests. These struggles are the battles the workers are waging inside the capitalist system to defend their interests [popular democratic struggle] and the battles the proletariat is waging to rid humanity of capitalism. The workers are waging struggles on two fronts, at the democratic level and the revolutionary level. The insistence on autonomous struggles is simply because workers need to purge the influence of other classes, especially the radical left petit bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie from their struggles, while at the same participating in unifying the people’s camp under their leadership.
The autonomous popular democratic struggles of the workers are the struggles to conquer and to defend these rights. The working class must construct, emphasizing on the concept on constructing, combative organizations to advance in these democratic struggles. These organizations must have a combative platform of struggle and a democratic approach to build and continuously constructing the combative platform. All workers, Muslim, Christian, Voodooist, Communist, etc… all must be able to participate as long as all respect the platform of struggle. It would be very detrimental to the unity of the class at the democratic level if workers couldn’t function in their own organizations independently of their beliefs. By the way, bourgeois democracy has already reached these levels of emancipation. It would be totally wrong, ultra leftist and against the interest of the class if revolutionary organizations articulated anti-clerical and/or anti-religions struggles at the mass democratic level. This would also be the case if the revolutionary left organizations bring the struggles between their respective denominations inside the mass democratic level. The effect of such an orientation is totally devastating and the results are very sterile. Most of the time, the tendency is for the workers to become disillusioned, demobilized, and to deplete these organizations. The experience of the international proletarian movement is full of harmful and destructive valuable lessons of things not to do and not to reproduce.
The struggle of religions and beliefs should be a struggle waged exclusively at the proletarian revolutionary level. The proletarian revolutionary level must consist of workers ready to struggle for the fundamental interest of the class, to fundamentally destroy capitalism. The workers must unify other dominated classes under their leadership in the struggle to defeat capital. In order to advance in that level it is imperative we learn from the past in order not to reproduce the same mistakes but rather lay the groundwork to rectify erroneous practices. We need not to confuse the two levels. We must always understand that even if both levels are an intricate part of the autonomous struggles of the working class, they [both levels] exist and must function in their dialectical relative autonomy, and in that relation the revolutionary level is fundamental.
Some food for thought on left radical petit bourgeois orientation: The traditional practice of some of the left, even Anarchists, is to try to control the mass level from the get go. The battle becomes a battle to control these mass organizations from the top. The result almost always is that these organizations become a head without a body, even when they are capable of mobilizing in some conjunctures. The final result is a very bureaucratic structure. The paranoia of being in minority and the need to control brings in bourgeois politics and the tradition of reactionary bourgeois politics into proletarian struggle, transforming these mass democratic proletarian organizations into bourgeois organizations, even if workers still remain as the rank and file.
One of the main dangers is to try to transform the mass democratic organizations into revolutionary mass democratic organizations, confusing the two levels and not respecting their levels of practice and not being able to define a correct internal political line of functioning. At the stage of popular reformist struggles and struggles for partial demands, the mass democratic organization will never be a revolutionary one, however combative an advanced it may be, it is too diversified and the level of unity cannot be reached in its constructive process to reach a level of a revolutionary organization. The danger again is to create a head without a body. These types of organizations usually end up depleted and only the most advanced adherents remain while still keeping the name of mass democratic structure.
The vanguard can’t be created or proclaimed. IT NEEDS TO BE CONSTRUCTED AND REALLY AND TRULY BE REPRESENTATIVE. T his can’t happen by trying to control it from the top but from struggle at the bottom based on a genuine type and style of proletarian politics of struggle. The transition from a minority position to reach a majority position has to be a process of struggle based on the principle of unity-struggle unity.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Tue Apr 07, 2009 02:19Report this post to the editors

In relation to Jan's extensive contribution, I think there's a lot to agree and a lot to disagree with it. I think that it could be well summed up to the following paragraph which I don't think anyone disagree with:

"The working class needs to build its own mass and revolutionary organization and actively participate in constructing other popular mass democratic organization. The mass organization must be a combative organization with the objective of weakening capital. Their basic unity should be based on a combative platform of struggle. Therefore, you could be an atheist, a Christian from any denomination, a revolutionary from any denomination, as long as we all respect our point of unity, based on discipline and democracy we all could belong to the same mass organization. After all this is the type of society, we are fighting for. The mass organization is the embryonic form at the mass level of that society, amongst our diversity, that we all aspire to bring about. Some ideologies will /may disappear in the transformation of the social conditions."
(I would personally stress the MAY in the last sentence).

As for anarchism being synoymous of atheism, I still can't see the merit of it. As it stands, my anarchist views are turning more and more pragmatical and have come to realize that a lot of things anarchists tend to hold as absolute truths, or as necessary elements of revolutionary practice, not only alienate others but are absolutely irrelevant at the end of the day. Atheism is one of those. I just think it is irrelevant for a revolutionary project. I appreciate Kevin S. comment that his own politics were able to develop after he challenged his own religious views -I would assume, coming from the US, that he comes from an evangelical background (correct me if I'm wrong), what constitutes a largely reactionary strand of Christianity and certainly some religious views need to be challenged, particularly when religion is turned into an argument to oppress others. That's out of questions. But this personal case is not universal: a lot of people (myself included) became revolutionaries or anarchists without getting into theological debates and I accepted the need to abolish the State and of building a libertarian communist society without any "challenge" of my religious views (and accepted historical and dialectical materialism as a method to understand society for that matter).

A lot of excellent revolutionaries I've known (Christian and others) hold religious views and have been notwithstanding fighting with deeds for a better society. A whole lot of revolutionary movements with a lot of merit to them developed out of religious communities. I don't see why they could have been any better had they become athesitic. I don't see why people who hold religious views have to be incompatible with a revolutionary project. I don't see the merit of demanding atheism to be a member of an anarchist group -I just don't think it matters to tell you the truth. I don't see why atheist people are necessarily any more progressive than religious ones. If someone gave me a convincing, simple and straightforward answer to why anarchists should be atheist and explain to me how, in what practical ways it makes a difference, I would accept there is a point for militant atheism after all. As far as I'm concerned, I fail to see the relevance of this.

As for Bakunin's ideas on the anarchist revolutionary organisation (ie, party), they certainly have a strong Jacobin flavour (his idea of a highly centralised organisation of "100 well proven members" to become the invisible -and therefore unaccountable- pilots of the revolution, is far from dear to modern anarchists). Although he was spot on in his views on the mass movement and on the revolution and in his critique of the State, his views on the organisation of the anarchists and atheism have that Jacobin taste that was so prevalent among revolutionary circles of the XIXth Century and need to be critically understood in that context.

author by Javierpublication date Fri Apr 10, 2009 11:55Report this post to the editors

I agree with Jose and I will strees the way the people relates to religion in latin american countries. In many, many cases (specially catholic), religion is mostly folkloric. It is not taken as a guide of conduct besides some values that we may partly share. It even incorporates the local culture by sincretism. Thus you have many popular gatherings with religious symbolism that are just community parties despite some priests attempting to have a greater influence (political and in social issues as abortion, etc). I know, because i live in a neighbourhood where the festivities for the Virgencita de Caacupe (patron virgin of the paraguayans) are like a carnival at a small scale, just fun. The authority of the pope is disregarded as non-existant, even the church as institution is questioned in many ways, faith is an individual matter.

The more strict religious interpretations are minoritarian and mostly coming from people with problems that have found support in one or another evangelical church (couple or family problems, drugs problems, economic problems, etc). And even in these cases where they have the habit of attending mass and even other religious activities, it mosly is a community organization. Politically, you have form priests influenced by Carlos Mugica (a priest in the seventies which participated in the poor neighbours movement, coming from a rich family and who was disappeared by the dictatorship, I know one I respect very much to the point of working with him in a revolutionary anarchist organization if it were possible and many I would be glad to work with in a mass organization) to tv right wing priests of the kind of the US. But mostly in the middle leaning to a social democratic or socialcristian conception.

All of these are a reality we have to take into account for our work but except in some cases where one or another church wants to impose restrictions on liberties or push a reactionary agenda, no focus on the church seems wothwhile for anarchists to me. And even in those cases the argument seems more effective in political terms than in philosphical terms.

I also come from a religious background and dont see that as negative, to a great extent it contributed to make me be the person I am now.

author by Kevin S.publication date Fri Apr 10, 2009 14:42Report this post to the editors

I appreciate Kevin S. comment that his own politics were able to develop after he challenged his own religious views -I would assume, coming from the US, that he comes from an evangelical background (correct me if I'm wrong)

Actually no. My grandparents are Jehovah's Witnesses (who some might call "evangelical" but have nothing to do with the right-wing evangelical movement ... in fact, they actively abstain from politics and refuse to serve in any military, which has sometimes led to persecution against them), but I never affiliated with any demonination. Also, I as well as my family (including even my "apolitical" grandparents!) have always been more or less leftists.

My point in mentioning it was only to show that, for individuals, philosophical or religious discussion can indeed be valuable. But I entirely agree, as already pointed out before, that an anarchist political organization should not be dealing with religious except, sometimes, in the form of "anti-clericalism" and anti-fundamentalism (in certain contexts) -- or as Wayne pointed out, "separation of church and state." I would not support requiring an atheist-doctrinal requirement for membership in a political anarchist group. (I myself could not agree to such a demand, as I do not consider myself an atheist!) Also, like Javier I do not see my religious background as something negative. On the contrary, I am actually glad I come from such a background as I am able to relate, more than a lot leftists are, to religious believers and even fundamentalists ... although sometimes not so able to relate to leftists or even other anarchists!

On a last note, I do quite appeciate the different contexts, as Javier hinted at describing religion in Latin America, Nestor's earlier mention of Italy and anti-clericalism, etc. The more extreme danger that fundamentalism poses, the more important it is to deal with politically. So in the U.S. it certainly needs addressing, but not the arrogant attitude of many "left"-atheists; and in, say, Afghanistan, it is absolutely crucial and unavoidable that revolutionaries to denounce and fight against the fundamentalists from every direction given the unbelievable oppression at their hands, for instance as is done by RAWA (revolutionary women's group). Similarly throughout the Middle East, it is important to fight back against fundamentalism, but not as "atheists" per se. Even a lot Muslims are against jihadi fundamentalism!

author by Ben Bolen - ex-NAFpublication date Tue Jun 02, 2009 17:16author email bbolen at pdx dot eduReport this post to the editors

Firstly I would sincerely like to thank Wayne for this thought provoking article. I enjoy his writings even if I sometimes disagree with certain parts of it. And I feel that's what this is about; encouraging healthy debate and criticism of ideas (not people) so that our collective understanding will evolve and flourish.

I have been an atheist since I was 10. Not agnostic, but atheist. It helped to lay the foundation for my anarchism years later. I used to take the approach of "live and let live" with respect to atheists and theists, but now I would have to say that I fit under the category of militant atheism (but with a different definition than what is given in the article).

Militant atheism is not the same as state imposed atheism. As an anarchist I don't believe that the state should (or can) stamp out religion. To differentiate from state atheism I will use the term "anarchist atheism" or just "atheism". Atheism isn't a word that we should shy away from, "anarchism" is technically a negative term but we all know that it stands for a lot more than "no rulers". No gods or supernatural beings implies the desire for reason, rationality, evidence, falsifiable theories, and other important values from the scientific method, the Enlightenment, and Modernism.

Now I can and have worked with religious people and groups in coalitions and groups. I have done the same with state Socialist groups (in loose coalitions!). When these Socialists try to interrupt meetings, preach, and spread their dogmatism we don't sit idly by and let them do it. And we shouldn't allow religious people and groups do it either. We don't allow oppressive politics to go unchallenged, so why allow religion? As atheists we should struggle to undermine the dogmatism, oppression, subservience, and ignorance of religion by raising consciousness about science, rationality, understanding, etc.

As much as religious people and groups (i.g. Pat Robertson or the Catholic Church) are militant about spreading their message, we have to be at least as militant in countering it. Atheism is not as dogmatic as religion. Hamas vs. Fatah is a false dichotomy. Fatah is not an atheistic version of Hamas (or vice versa), nor do they really say they are secular. Hitler was not an atheist. Stalin, Kim Jong Il, Lenin, etc. had and have huge cults of personality surrounding them. They are hardly the embodiment of rationality either. Regardless of how evil they were, their personal beliefs do not really matter when examining the validity of atheism anyway.

Unfortunately religions do not look to relieve suffering. They three Abrahamic religions (four if you count Mormonism) of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are obsessed with continuing suffering on earth, holding slaves, oppressing women and homosexuals, and ritual sacrifice and fear from a God who can read our minds. Sam Harris has argued in Letter to a Christian Nation that half the time Jesus is not a peaceful as people take him to be. And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. learned his non-violence from meeting with Gandhi, who in turn got it from Jainism, not Christianity. Harris and Richard Dawkins both argue that Buddhism and Confucianism are less religions and more ethical systems.

There definitely are a small amount of religious radicals. The fact that the bible (for example) has so many contradictions that allows for different people to read the same book and get different ideas out of it show more to the inconsistency and illogicality of religion than a defense of religion. Dawkins in The God Delusion argues that those people who consider themselves "religious moderates" (centrists and leftists who are mildly religious) should abandon religion.

There is no waiting for a "perfect movement". Everyone can and will make mistakes, but we should be willing to exam our mistakes rather than to hide them. Religion will cease to exist when the people stop believing in it. As atheists we should not bite our tongues. Rather, we should come out of the closet to reject superstition, subservience, blind faith, oppression. We will promote an understanding of the universe based on scientific principles, critical thinking, and freedom for all.

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author by Menteithpublication date Mon Jul 27, 2009 21:32author email menteith at live dot comReport this post to the editors

I find the topic of religion of much interest, I am a religious person. However, I too agree that state and church should avoid each other like the Brothers Cain and Abel. It is also a very poignant note to mention that abolition of state is the only way to achieve said separation (much in the same way as the abolition of capitalism is the only thing from which wrought is democracy).
It must be noted I speak of an Australian political climate, so this context must be applied to my further statements. With nominated and "democratically" elected representatives vying for the seats of their 'local' constituents; how can one suppose that minority's gain any semblance of power? Assuming the spread of a [hypothetical] Christian majority to be close enough to uniform would it not mean a quashing of all minority strongholds and attempts at power - due to there being a majority held in every locality? So would that then force a, possibly, far worse oppressive institution of zoned living, zoned voting populations or a then arbitrary selection of government officials - most probably chosen for their affluence and false charm (bringing to mind the Facade Under Canberra's Kevin, that occurs now). I say this not of course as a note of ponder, but as further illustration of the need to abolish the state. Though with the note that the abolition of a capitalist state and then the state in itself would be more practically prudent (congruent with Lennin's idea that communism is a necessary step toward socialism*).
And yet, I am a New Zealand national and too young to vote, so all mention of the hope of one day ending the farcical rule of the golden rule at the moment falls to others, in a greater degree than to I. But, I may see the inception of our dream yet, at the least I shall have more time to enjoy it.

*I feel it noteworthy to sate I oppose authoritarian-communism, the congruency is that an immediate jump to socialist-anarchism is to great to be undertaken at once. For a two part solution (socialism and anarchism) two steps are logically advised.

On a more, unrelated but useful note. Anyone question, and make careful note here, the goodness of God (not his existence - for that argument is sourced elsewhere) cast your eyes over C. S. Lewis' "Problem of Pain". Also, and I am unsure if this was the writer's intention, you came as disappointed or possibly vexed at God for not existing. If you would like to take this up with someone, feel free to begin believing in God so as you can tell him how unhappy you are with his non-existence.

author by Invisible Heart - PHILOSOPHYpublication date Mon Apr 20, 2015 01:18Report this post to the editors

“I can tell if two people are in love by how they hold each other's hands, mission statement for your life. By accepting others as they are you will not be judged. Don't wait for perfect moment and right time; you have to try to know when the world won't mean anything.

But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, of clarity to that people show you who they are, believe them. How do you mean? People don't like hearing this because it makes them to walk around singing “I Can Go the Distance,” we don't belong? "I can't imagine how bad you are feeling right now; – the biggest mistake you can make is to deserve everything in life you want, if you will just help other people. Every times we are concerned about the poor - whether they are near or far.

I don't think you fully understand how others and the need to be the “best” or “perfect” all the time. I try to think back to what my people who know exactly what they want to do when they are. It's OK to know how you do not want to feel, so how do I know that I myself don't go wrong every time.You feel like you can't do anything right. Or, they've realized their PhD in (insert Arts subject here) may not be as practical as they had then you go right ahead so good at being what people want you to be.

Everyone has times in their life when they feel motivated, breathe while they're having the time of their life? I don't care about him or what, it's just I don't know how to comfort the same thing to each other. We all have things to do that we really just don't want to do, but have to for some reason.

If you want me to clarify and go deeper into an answer to a question, but they DO reflect of the most intelligent people I know. How do you know if you have low self confidence? We just don't want our societal standing challenged because they believe in what they're doing. My intent was not to target people who are overweight; “Don't Tell Me You're Busy” the purpose of our clothes is to glorify God.

I don't know anyone who has actually lived hardly tell you so themselves or disagree doesn't mean they shouldn't be to keep that in mind if you really want to use the toilet about now. "I'm just showing you that you can't hide what you really are, not from my eye! It's just easier to let go and let God be the main instrument of my care about him or what, it's just I don't know how to comfort him. But every now and then, we want to bring up tough you're unsure or want to help have really egregious meltdowns, so it's important in a situation where you think they may have but if they do, just keep them.

“Most of us are just about as happy as we make our minds God that all my prayers have not been answered. This theological discussion has brought some much need comfort to my heart. Dont be ashamed of him I listen less to the radio (I don't know as much about world) whatever you conceive Him got to take care of it, I know that, I'm aware of that God and I'm not asking and believed God “with the power through his Spirit,” What feet its firmly on the ground.

In my own personal journey of trying to be a better person, thought a moment and then said, "And God threw him back down?” I say it's easier to believe in a God than to believe in great comfort in our heart. Everyone is on a spiritual path; most people just don't know it. "If you want to make God laugh, how know we the way?

We get used to the bad smell in few hours and we don't care anymore. I don't know them, and sadly yesterday that it's not his life that's the main problem. Answer our prayers, don't we really mean chases after us, wanting us to be like Him, the tune because your definition of “love” is not God's definition of “love” and of chance. I think God understands I know that God is always there who do not know the Lord, who do not know Him main objective would be to reconcile him with God. You don't have to like it and when asked about it says 'I don't know.

If you're God, will you derive pleasure from the "love" your created gives you always know what to do in our lives. Because you know, I don't think I want them to make sense. It's not necessarily that there's anything wrong with this struggling right now with wanting to do God's work and not knowing that the Spirit of God within us, the inner anointing, is like that comes under God's timing at God's choice.

God and so wants us to believe that we should change the definition. However, hearing voices in it is not a symptom of an illness to gain God's definition of LOVE. God can show us what is right and what is not acceptable to him. Do you fully understand God's LOVE for you? JESUS belief sets you do not think of God's love to listen and to just kind of how painful it would be.It's another thing to adore the false god is not difficult to conjecture, as you know, as to why God think of other things.
“Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness. With this definition in mind, what do you think Jesus might mean expression is not something I could endure?

I felt that you were trying to assure me of God's love as though I don't know about it. I felt as if I were not worthy of God's love there is a god out there, but he's really not part of my life. He's not willing to compete for the highest priority in our lives. We're just going to be quiet because he has an opinion trust Him that doesn’t know it, others know it well into becoming like God.

God is everything we think we know about God reason – for then we should know the mind of God know you are not a partaker and therefore you have the real chance. A life with love will have some thorns, but a life without love will have no roses.

"Give me a heart" is rich meaning and purpose and we can discover “prī-ˈor-ə-ˌtīz” "holy" makes life so much better than before it that demonstrate God's power, God's mercy, and God's love for us? There is another person easy for us to know the difference we don't know based on our own that those of us who believe Him be able to do anything to stop Him from loving you.

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