4

Are classless societies and religion mutually exclusive? I believe that this is one of the major hurdles of communism; that the only way to remove socioreligious classes would be to ban religion, but that would cause much resistance. So has anybody come up with a non-atheistic alternative to the problem of religion in communism?

ADDENDUM: I asked related questions on some religious Stack Exchanges:

16
  • 7
    Which religion? For example, Hindusim advocates a strict caste system while Christianity has some very communist messages (Marc 10:23-25). You need to differentiate.
    – Philipp
    Apr 3, 2016 at 17:31
  • 5
    By the way: Pope Francis was called a communist on more than one occasion. A while ago he tweeted: "Earnings and capital are not more important than the human person, but should be at the service of the common good.". Although he insists that he is not and only preaches the gospel.
    – Philipp
    Apr 3, 2016 at 18:20
  • 6
    I don't see any reason that religion should have anything to do with social classes.
    – Bobson
    Apr 3, 2016 at 19:46
  • 2
    @tox123 - Sports meets those criteria, too. It's highly competitive, and while I don't know of a war started in the name of sports, there have been many major riots. There's also both inter-team and intra-team hierarchies.
    – Bobson
    Apr 3, 2016 at 21:20
  • 3
    @PhilLello - not really. Like many people, you seem to be fully confusing equality of opportunity (which is what the Declaration writers meant) with equality of outcome (which is what classless society implies). In comparison to Europe, US is far less class-oriented, especially less-european-tied areas (e.g. excluding East Coast and The South).
    – user4012
    Apr 5, 2016 at 2:00

7 Answers 7

12

The traditional Marxist perspective is that communisim and religion are incompatible, but this is not a "problem" because it is the collapse in religion that is one of the events leading to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie. There is no "problem of religion in communism" because religion would be gone long before communism was established.

Here is how Marx and Engels imagined religion: In the past "god" was the only way of explaining the many mysteries. But in the capitalist period of history there was no need to believe in god. The fact that religion persisted was because the capitalists were using religion to justify the suffering of the workers. "You'll get your reward in heaven" is what the capitalists would say, and while the workers believed this they would be docile. Hence the slogan "Opiate of the masses". But inevitably the belief in god would die away, and as it did the workers would ask "what gives my life meaning" and the answer would be "my work", but work for many was a life of toil for little reward, while the capitalists benefitted. This is the core of the instability that would lead to revolution.

The workers, having won their freedom would not be religious. There would be no need to ban religion. It would be an aspect of an ancient culture that had no relevance to the communist society.

2
  • This article Methodism and the English Labour Movement by Revd Dr Nigel Scotland may give some credence to the idea that the Labour Party owes at least as much to Methodism as it does to Marxism in its origins. I'm not clear as to how this would fit with what is being debated here, as it all appears a rather ill-moderated and directionless discussion to me.
    – WS2
    Jun 17, 2022 at 22:29
  • This "Opiate ... the people" quote exists in 2 different versions. Marx used "Opiate OF the people" in the sense of a self-administered drug where the individual takes comfort and resists the misery of the real world by escaping to a fake world where things make sense, where it's not pointless or hopeless. The "Opiate FOR the people" is a quote from Lenin who instead directly accused the church of deliberately making the masses docile and unrevolutionary by hooking them up to some opiate.
    – haxor789
    Feb 12 at 12:54
10

Anabaptists (especially of Munster) basically tried to build an officially-classless society. (of course, as is 100% the case when someone tries to do that, some animals got to be more equal than other animals even in Munster, but the sordid details of Van Leiden's excesses and abuses are more in scope for History.SE. You should listen to an awesome Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" podcast on the topic as a good intro).

In addition, more generally, religions exist on a spectrum where the clergy is more or less separated and defined (including as a class).

In one corner you have religions like in Ancient Egypt, where priesthood were by definition higher caste.

In another, to the best of my knowledge, modern Wicca doesn't have a dedicated clerical class the way Druids existed back-when.

In another, you have Protestantism, which has made the communication between the deity and layperson much more direct than Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox Christianity did, culminating in some branches of Protestantism (especially with Anabaptist branch) where you basically have little need for a priest as a separate class. (I am not an expert, but Latter-Day-Saints seems to also devolve much of clerical stuff on community members).

In general, original Christianity - before becoming state religion after Constantine - has many classless/communist themes, in places. E.g. Acts 2:44. This obviously got perverted to an extent once the Roman Church merged with Roman state, but the concepts of vows of poverty, ascetic monks and such persisted even past that. Cardinal Barbarini may have been upper-class; but a random Dominican monk working the fields or doing some other menial work likely wasn't any different-class from regular peasants, aside from being able to read/write.

1
  • Caveat - I'm far from expert on any of the Christian denominations, so if any of the above is invalid please ping me.
    – user4012
    Apr 5, 2016 at 1:56
4

As I have pointed out previously, there are versions of communism that are religious and don't require religion to be removed. Only Marxist communism and certain versions of communism advocate for the elimination of religion. One must also remember that Karl Marx and other communist thinkers considered socialism to be a lower-stage of communism, so technically religious socialism can count a form of communism that exists before the final ideal, stateless society. There is Christian communism, where the first Christians lived in some proto-communist societies that many people wish to return to.

Acts 2:44-45, "All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need."

Acts 4:32-35, "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. ... 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Christianity was the expression of class conflict in Antiquity. -Kautsky, Karl (1953)

There is Islamic socialism, which is similar to the lower stage of communist production described by Marx that incorporates Islamic principles, including Gaddafism by Muammar Gaddafi and the ideology of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party.

tl;dr You can have religion and a society that fits the basic definition of communism: a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.

1
  • As far as I know Marx used socialism and communism interchangeably. He talked about a transitioning phase and a lower-stage communism but calling that phase "socialism" was afaik Lenin's idea and had nothing to do with Marx. Often times the term "real existing socialism" has been used by critics and proponents to signal the difference between what had previously been considered socialism
    – haxor789
    Feb 12 at 11:58
1

I would simply draw the questioner's attention to an oft-repeated adage about the British Labour Party.

It is that "Labour owes more to Methodism than it does to Marxism".

And for a good essay of a dozen pages on the topic I recommend Methodism and the English Labour Movement by Revd Dr Nigel Scotland.

While it presents a mixed picture it clearly says that "it is reasonable to conclude that the kind of Christianity which counted for most in the history of the Labour Movement was that which found expression in the several branches of Methodism".

I'm not arguing any unique case for Methodism, nor even for Christianity generally, but this seems to me clear evidence that genuine religion is no enemy to any ambition for a classless society.

-1

There do exist non-hierarchical religious structures like that of the Quaker sect of Protestantism. While it's fair to say that a path to classless, religious communism is effectively impossible on a large scale (there are only ~1/3 million adult Quakers in the world), it would not be inconceivable for Quaker communism to form somewhere in the world, especially since Quaker faith (generally) holds that everyone can hear the small, silent voice (God), which enforces human equality on a fundamental belief level.

5
  • 2
    Quakerism in England, where it began was at the forefront of the emergence of capitalism in the late eighteenth-century. The history of banking - with names like Gurney, and Barclay - is replete with Quaker influence. That is not to say that Quakers were not among the great social reformers of the period - with names like like Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney,) who married into the Fry chocolate family (also Quakers) before becoming the great prison reformer that she did.
    – WS2
    Jun 17, 2022 at 13:08
  • 1
    This man was a Quaker - from a prominent Quaker family. His parents had 14 children, most of whom went on to become distinguished members of society in politics, business, social reform etc. Samuel Gurney was the Elon Musk of his day - possibly the world's richest person. But a great philanthropist.
    – WS2
    Jun 17, 2022 at 15:46
  • @WS2 Quakerism exists in a stratified society, yes. But Quakerism itself doesn't lead to social stratification in the way that religions with a priesthood do. There are other religions that also treat all adherents as equals, and nay number of them could (eventually) be the formative religious doctrine of an egalitarian, non-atheistic, communist society. Quakerism was just the first to come to mind.
    – GOATNine
    Jun 17, 2022 at 16:47
  • Where did the idea come from that "religions with a priesthood" were the fount of all inequality. I am aware that Marx described religion in general as "the opium ofthe people" - but I have never before come across this idea about episcopal and priestly churches. Do please enlighten me!
    – WS2
    Jun 17, 2022 at 17:46
  • A priesthood by definition creates a social stratification. It's not always that priests are in a higher caste either, There are several religious orders of mendicants, the best known (at least in Western theological circles) is the order of Franciscan Monks. I'm confused as to how you think I'm stating that religion caused all inequality in society though. Scarcity of resources and the biological imperative to preserve ones genetic material are the primary drivers of inequality. Social stratification draws a difference between groups of people, and that also creates inequality.
    – GOATNine
    Jun 17, 2022 at 18:48
-2

By definition, Judaism cannot be a "classless" society in the sense that anyone can take on any role in society. For example, the Priestly class (descendant of Aharon the high priest) are the only ones who can serve as priests in the Temple and have special laws which are restricted to them. The Levites (tribe of Levi son of Jacob) did not inherit any land in the nation and were the only ones to take on certain roles within the temple.

The head of government must be the king who is descended from King David through the direct male line from all his successors.

I can answer only about Judaism because every religion would require a separate set of answers based on the beliefs and practices of that religion. As such, I would be unable to answer properly.

As a general system, any monotheistic religion implies a hierarchy under G0d and would require classes in a way similar to Judaism. Any pagan religion, believing in multiple deities would actually treat the "deitic race" as if they were super beings ruling over humanity. This in an of itself implies classes with the deities being in the position of a ruling class and every human part of the slave class.

10
  • 2
    While technically correct, this merely addresses that Judaism cannot be a classless society. That doesn't address a general question about religion overall.
    – user4012
    Apr 5, 2016 at 1:47
  • @user4012 I added a brief note about religion in general that states that religion by definition cannot be classless.. However, I do not know enough about other religions to prove that point absolutely. I note that your answer speaks only about Christianity and also would be subject to your objection. Apr 5, 2016 at 2:00
  • Also, extra technicality - the above only works when the Temple is around. Post-diaspora Judaism doesn't technically speaking require a clerical class in most cases (until the Temple is rebuilt); even though in practice in most Jewish communities the Rabbi is still "upper class" person by station.
    – user4012
    Apr 5, 2016 at 2:08
  • @user4012 Even though the way I described it is the ideal that is used, the basis of Judaism still continues to maintain this even in the circumstances of the exile. We must consider those who study Torah and follow G0d as a higher "class" than the others. It is only because so many are ignorant of the ideal that they fall prey to the myths that pervade the current society. Apr 5, 2016 at 2:27
  • 1
    It's not clear to me that this answer is talking about real classes in the Marxist sense.
    – Brian Z
    Aug 27, 2020 at 22:26
-5

More basically, as in the American Founding and its Freedom of Religion, If you do not explicitly have Freedom of Religion there is no area of life that the State can't dominate. A classless society would still have classes in, say, the Catholic Church (I am a Catholic). The whole idea is ridiculous.

Since the American Founding the core difference that any society has to address is the following:

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress.

2
  • 2
    If you really look at the founding core difference it did not actually treat all men as being equal and it did treat women differently then men.
    – Joe W
    Jun 17, 2022 at 15:00
  • 2
    If that last section is a quotation, please edit in a source. Jun 17, 2022 at 17:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .