Karl Marx was a 19th Century economist, philosopher, and advocate of socialism and communism. Marx criticized religion, calling it the opium of the people. Basically, Marx saw religion solely as a means whereby the ruling classes suppress ordinary people. Marx was correct that rulers use religion to discourage rebellion but this was clearly very much simplified. Egalitarian tribal hunter gatherer societies usually have religious or spiritual beliefs, hierarchical societies are not alone in this. Further those who want to fight the rulers in their society are likely to develop interpretations of religion that suggest their fight is virtuous, Liberation theology is an example.
The dialectical of Hegel
Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel developed a dialectic concept. One starts with a thesis and gets its opposite, the antithesis. These two then combine to get the result, the synthesis. If one starts with Being, one finds that being without properties is nothing, so one gets its opposite, Nothing. Combining the two yields Becoming. Hegel proposed that continuing this dialectic yields an endpoint: "the Absolute Idea, which is pure thought that thinks about pure thought, with everything else being a figment of its imagination." (Can you understand that? Why should it be so?) Hegel also proposed that human society also develops in this fashion, with his employer, the Prussian state, approximating the Absolute Idea.
Marx developed a system which he called dialectical materialism. It teaches the priority of matter over mind and a progression that develops from G.W.F. Hegel's dialectic. Marx like Hegel proposed that human society progresses in dialectical fashion, with each stage inevitably developing "inner contradictions" that yield the next stage. Marxists often use "contradiction" as a synonym for "conflict". His stages are:
- Primitive communism
- Aristocratic slave societies
- True Communism.
In socialism, businesses and society would be run like democratic workers' cooperatives, as far as one can tell from Marx's writings. The state will eventually wither away, leaving True Communism, a classless and stateless utopia. Remember utopia is nowhere.
Marxist faith & religion
This system does not include any supernatural beliefs, but despite its rationalist pretensions, it has a quasi-religious, faith-based quality. Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy created this dictionary of Marxist concepts:
- Yahweh = Dialectical Materialism
- The Messiah = Marx
- The Elect = The Proletariat
- The Church = The Communist Party
- The Second Coming = The Revolution
- Hell = Punishment of the Capitalists
- The Millennium = The Communist Commonwealth
Another quasi-religious element is personality cults of Communist leaders. Joseph Stalin was the first, and he was followed by Mao Zedong and others, with North Korea's leaders continuing personality cultism. North Korea is also a Communist monarchy, with three generations of god-kings so far.
O great Stalin, O leader of the peoples,
Thou who broughtest man to birth.
Thou who fructifies the earth,
Thou who restorest to centuries,
Thou who makest bloom the spring,
Thou who makest vibrate the musical chords...
Thou, splendour of my spring, O thou,
Sun reflected by millions of hearts.
Communism in practice owes a lot to Vladimir Lenin as well as to Karl Marx. He founded the world's first Communist country, and he justified the rule of a centralized, autocratic party by arguing that in the socialist stage, it's necessary for a vanguard party of class-conscious workers to do the ruling.
Marxist totalitarianism was responsible for many of the most harmful dictatorships of the 20th Century and still does harm today in places like North Korea. We can only guess how Marx would have reacted to all this as it happened after his death.
Decline of Communism
Though Communism had long seemed impregnable, many Communist regimes have fallen two decades ago, with their successors all being capitalist. The surviving Communist regimes have varying amounts of capitalism in them, from creeping capitalism to being Communist only in name.
Many Christians assume that any atheist must inevitably be a Communist, this is simply not true.
- Isn't Atheism the Same as Communism? Doesn't Atheism Lead to Communism? From Atheism.About.com
- Marx's theory of history - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - has some quotes from Marx on what he thought that socialism would be like