Is our theory relevant?

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Naima Omar’s article on religion and socialism (March SR) was fascinating and illustrated a consistency in practice from socialists, stretching over a century, in support of those who are under attack for their religious beliefs.

But Omar says that socialists always have to “maintain our politics” in relation to religion and I wonder whether the socialist political theory of religion has been or indeed should be maintained a century or so on?

Marx famously wrote that religion was the “opium of the people”, a drug that people take to escape reality.

Lenin wrote that Marxists should be “relentlessly hostile to religion” and that it was only the “rather backward workers who believe in God”, having been taken in by religious organisations that were out to “befuddle the working class”.

Trotsky later claimed that the Soviet government was “thoroughly sweeping aside religion and all its surrogates”.

Obviously that ambition was never fully realised and I don’t hear socialists talking in these terms today but nor am I aware of any rethinking of the relationship between religion and socialism in the 21st century.

A theory that reduces the survival of religion to a desperate attempt by befuddled and backward workers to avoid their economic circumstances seems somewhat reductive and out of touch with what is happening now.

Peter Keighron
London