Love, Drugs, Art, Religion: The Pains and Consolations of Existence

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The early Christians were prepared to endure the most ghastly tortures in defence of their faith, defying the state and the ruling class and perishing in the arena. The reason for this ferocious persecution was that this movement of the poor and dispossessed represented a threat to the existing order. But none of these methods succeeded in crushing the movement, which derived new strength from the blood of its martyrs.

However, given the lack of a material basis for the introduction of a classless society, gradually everything changed into its opposite. Under the prevailing conditions, the leadership of the Church, starting with the bishops who were, in effect the treasurers, came under the pressure of the ruling class and the state and gradually moved away from the original communistic beliefs of the movement.

Realising the impossibility of defeating the Christians by repression, the ruling class changed its tactics.

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The way in which the upper layers of the Church were corrupted by the emperor Constantine can be seen in the following passage from the historian of the early Church, Eusebius, which describes the Council of Nicea in AD, presided over by the emperor himself, "like some messenger of God". To quote Eusebius: "The circumstances of the banquet were splendid beyond description. Detachments of the bodyguard and other troops surrounded entrance of the palace with drawn swords, and through the midst of these the men of God proceeded without fear into the innermost of the imperial apartments.

Some were the emperor's own companions at table, others reclined on couches ranged on either side. One might have thought that it was a picture of Christ's kingdom, and a dream rather than reality. Ware, The Orthodox Church , p.

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These methods are all too familiar to socialists and trade unionists today. They are precisely the same methods whereby the leaders of the trade union and labour movement are brought under the influence of bourgeois ideas and become corrupted and absorbed into the system. The tops of the movement are invited to expensive dinners and parties where they rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Ever since the Council of Nicea, the Church has been the firmest supporter of wealth, privilege and oppression.

The gains to the empire of this sell-out were palpable. The early Christians refused to recognise the state or serve in the army. Now this was reversed. The Church became one of the main pillars of the state and ferociously persecuted anyone who called its new doctrines into question. When Arius of Alexandria rejected the Nicene creed, his supporters the Arians were put to the sword. Over 3, Christians were killed by their fellow Christians - more than in three centuries of Roman persecution. By such means did the Church of the poor and oppressed become transformed into the principal vehicle for their enslavement.

Over a period, the Christian Church became absorbed - through its top layers - into the state. Throughout all its subsequent history the Church has taken advantage of human weakness and the fear of death to enslave men's minds and, in the process, gain enormous power and riches, in stark contrast to the teachings of the poor Galilean rebel, in whose name it purports to speak. From being a revolutionary movement of the poor and oppressed, it became a bulwark of reaction and the mouthpiece of the rich and powerful - a situation which has lasted till the present time.

The history of the Church is the complete and absolute negation of its early ideas, beliefs and traditions. On the history of the Papacy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance - an unparalleled chronicle of infamy and crime - numerous volumes have been written. We confine ourselves here to just one example which sums up the real situation and shows the abysm that separates the real situation from the hypocritical myths.

In the year , Pope Leo X launched the Taxa Camerae, in order to sell indulgences whereby one's soul could be saved for a modest sum of money. There was no crime so vile that it could not be absolved by this simple expedient. Among its 35 articles we read:. The ecclesiastic who incurs carnal sin, whether with nuns, or with his cousins, nieces or daughters sic! If the ecclesiastic, in addition to the sin of fornication, seeks absolution from sins against nature or bestiality, he must pay pounds and 15 shillings. But if he has only committed unnatural sins with boys and beasts, and not with women, he shall pay only pounds and 15 shillings.

The nun who wishes to acquire the dignity of abbess having given herself to one or more men simultaneously or successively, whether within her convent or without, shall pay pounds, 15 shillings. The adulterous woman who seeks absolution to be free from all trials and to have ample dispensation to continue her illicit relations, shall pay the Pope 87 pounds, 3 shillings. Likewise, the husband shall pay the same sum, if he has committed incest with his children, he shall pay an additional conscience payment of 6 pounds. Absolution and certainty of non-persecution for the crimes of rape, robbery or arson, shall cost the guilty pounds , 7 shillings.

Absolution for simple murder committed in the person of a layman shall be fixed at 15 pounds, 3 pence.

If the murderer has caused the death of two or more men in the same day, he shall pay as if he had only killed one. The husband who ill treats his wife shall pay to the chest of the chancellery 3 pounds, 4 shillings; if he has killed her, he shall pay 17 pounds, 15 shillings, and if he has killed her in order to marry another, he shall pay in addition, 32 pounds, 9 shillings.

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Those who have helped the husband to commit the crime, shall be absolved by the payment of 2 pounds each. The mother who has destroyed her own child, removing it from her womb, and the husband who has contributed to the crime, shall pay 17 pounds, 15 shillings each. He who facilitates the abortion of a child that is not his own, shall pay 1 pound less. For the murder of a brother or sister, mother or father, 17 pounds, 5 shillings shall be paid.

However, if a bishop or prelate of the higher echelons of the hierarchy is murdered, the amount to pay goes up drastically - to pounds, 14 shillings for the first offence, and half that amount for the rest. Moreover, if the murderer "has killed many priests on various occasions, he shall pay , 6 shillings for the first murder, and half that amount for the rest. But far more serious than murder, rape or infanticide, was the heinous crime of heresy - that is, holding different ideas to those of the official Church.

Even if a heretic becomes converted, he or she must still pay the sum of pounds, whereas "the son of a heretic who has been burnt or hanged or otherwise executed in any way, cannot be rehabilitated except by the payment of pounds, 16 shillings and 9 pence. The list continues with fraud, smuggling, non-payment of debts, eating meat on holy days, bastard sons of priests who wish to take holy orders, and even eunuchs who wish to become priests who, under point 33, had to pay no less than pounds, 16 shillings.

Despite this cynical list of infamy, Pope Leo X is described by Catholic historians as the protagonist of "the most brilliant and perhaps the most dangerous period of the pontificate in the history of the Church. Barcelona: Ediciones B. In every country throughout the centuries the Church has sided with the oppressors against the oppressed. The English landowners operated in close collaboration with the preachers of the Established Protestant Church. In France, Spain and Italy, the priests were the abject servants of the landowners and later the capitalists.

However, the class contradictions in society have frequently found an expression in a religious guise, which should not surprise anyone acquainted with historical materialism.

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On this subject, Trotsky wrote: "Religious, as indeed any other, ideas being born out of the soil of the material conditions of life and above all the soil of class contradictions, only gradually clear themselves away and then live on by the force of conservatism longer than the needs that gave birth to them and disappear completely only after the effects of serious social shocks and crises.

At different periods, different religions, churches and sects have played different roles, which, in the last analysis, reflected different, and even antagonistic class interests. The first stirrings of the great revolt against feudalism were the challenges to the power and authority of the Roman Catholic Church, which found a ready echo among the masses.

A Catholic historian notes that "a revolutionary spirit of hatred for the Church and the clergy had taken hold of the masses in various parts of Germany The cry 'death to the priests! Manchester, A World Lit only by Flame , p. Early outbursts like that of the Lollards in England and the Hussites in Germany prepared the ground for Luther's Reformation. In all these movements there was a communistic tendency, which harked back to the early traditions of the Church, and in every case was brutally suppressed. During the English Peasants' Revolt of , the chronicler Froissart reports the activities of a movement of dissident "hedge priests" led by one John Ball, who advanced communist ideas in a biblical guise with his celebrated slogan:.

In the period of the rise of the bourgeoisie, the Protestant religion reflected the revolt of the nascent bourgeoisie against decaying feudalism. In this it undoubtedly played a progressive role. Protestantism was divided from birth in the sixteenth century.

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In the ferment of these turbulent times, a whole series of new sects emerged, representing the ideas and aspirations of different classes and sub-classes: Anabaptists, Mennonites, Bohemians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Unitarians. Despite the revolutionary import of his activities, Luther was bitterly hostile to the revolutionary movement of the German peasants whom his teachings had spurred into action. He urged the aristocracy to crush the movement in the most violent language. This was done. The most Christian princes slaughtered almost , peasants.

In Saxony alone, five thousand men were put to the sword. About were spared only after their women agreed to beat out the brains of two priests accused of fomenting the rebellion. The activities of the Holy Inquisition - the Gestapo of the Counter-reformation - are too well known to warrant much comment. In the Spanish-occupied Netherlands, it was declared a capital crime for a man to have a bible in his house. Convicted heretics were burnt alive, but if they confessed and repented, the Inquisition showed mercy: the men were beheaded and the women buried alive.

But what is less well known are the activities of the Protestants in the matter of suppressing dissent. Calvin, who ran a theocratic dictatorship in Geneva, had Michael Servetus burnt alive when he was on the point of discovering the circulation of the blood. Servetus pleaded for mercy - not for his life, but to be beheaded. The request was denied and he was kept roasting for half an hour. In the English Revolution of the 17th century, the most revolutionary wing, reflecting the aspirations of the lower orders of society, the artisans, labourers, that is, the nascent proletariat, found its expression in a religious form.

The left wing of the movement was organised in a series of radical and democratic Protestant sects like the Fifth Monarchy men, the Ranters and the Anabaptisits. In the given historical context, these movements had a progressive and revolutionary character. They reflected the first confused stirrings of consciousness of a class that had not yet fully formed itself. After the Restoration, these radical plebeian tendencies re-appeared in a muted form as religious dissenters.

Persecuted by the Monarchy with the enthusiastic backing of the Established Anglican Church, many of them emigrated to America, where their revolutionary energies were sublimated by the task of opening up a new continent. Over the years their revolutionary and radical origins have been entirely lost. Some of them, like the Quakers, still retain some faded elements of the old ideas, although in an extremely watered down form, which does not interfere with the successful pursuit of business interests. But mostly they have turned into a bulwark of reaction and a ferocious defence of the right wing causes.

In Latin America, by a strange quirk of destiny, the evangelist sects have become the shock troops of reaction and the defenders of military dictatorships, while to some extent, at least the rank and file of the Roman Catholic Church has inclined towards the cause of the poor and oppressed. By the time of the French revolution, over a century later, the consciousness of the masses had advanced to the point where religion played absolutely no role in their thinking.

The close relation between the Church and the absolutist state was obvious to all. In the period that led up to the storming of the Bastille, the materialist philosophers like Diderot and Holbach had done a thorough job of demolishing the spiritual Bastille of religion. The French Revolution eradicated the Church root and branch. The Jacobin state was officially atheist, although Robespierre attempted to cover this fact with the fig leaf of "the Supreme Being", which convinced nobody except maybe Robespierre himself.

In fact, most of the people hated the priests whom they saw correctly as agents of the ruling class. Only towards the end of the 19th century, especially after the Paris Commune, when the French bourgeoisie had a shock, did the latter take steps to encourage a reactionary religious revival, utilising tricks like the manufactured "miracles" at Lourdes for the purpose. In the Russian revolution, things were clearer still. Although the Russian working class initially came onto the stage of history in January , with a priest at their head, carrying religious icons, all this was rapidly swept away after the massacre of the ninth of January, when the most Christian tsar ordered his Cossacks to open fire on the unarmed people who had come to petition him.

After this, religion played no role in the movement, which was organised and led by the Marxists. After the victory of the October Revolution, the collapse of the Church's influence was even swifter and more complete than it had been in France. The priest walked hand in hand with the constable and any development of sectarian dissent was met with repression. It was for this reason that the roots of the Orthodox Church proved to be so weak in the popular consciousness and especially in the industrial centres. In shaking off the bureaucratic ecclesiastic apparatus the Russian worker in his overwhelming mass and together with him, the peasant milkmaid, shook off religious thinking altogether.

It is a devastating comment on the way in which Stalinism threw back the consciousness of society that immediately after the collapse of the USSR, all the old muck has revived: nationalism, anti-semitism, fascism, monarchism - and along with all these glories of Tsarism - religion and superstition. These remnants of medieval barbarism spread like a plague through the sick and shattered body of Russia, displaying to all the world the real nature of the "market" and the fact that the bourgeoisie in Russia offers nothing except the prospect of economic, social and cultural decline. The rise of the modern labour movement in the last decade of the 19th century and the period before the First World War presented the religious Establishment with a challenge.

Without exception the Church placed itself on the side of the exploiters and in opposition to socialism and the labour movement. In order to prevent the spread of socialist ideas in the working class, the Catholic Church took steps to split the labour movement, setting up separate Catholic trade unions, women's and youth organisations, to compete with the Social Democracy. In fact, the Church copied their organisational methods from the Social Democracy. The Church hierarchy -always so obliging to the rich and powerful - looked upon socialism and the labour movement with undisguised suspicion and antagonism.

They are emphatically unjust, because they would rob the lawful possessor If one man hires out to another his strength or his industry, he does this in order to receive in return the means of livelihood, with the intention of acquiring a real right, not merely to his wage, but also to the free disposal of it. Should he invest this wage in land it is only his wage in another form Every man has, by the law of Nature, the right to possess property of his own Man is prior to the state, and he holds his natural rights prior to any right of the State When man spends the keenness of his mind and the strength of his body in winning the fruits of Nature, he thereby makes his own that spot of Nature's field which he tills, that spot on which he sets the seal of his own personality.

It cannot but be just that that spot should be his own, free from outside intrusion Pope Leo XIII also wrote: "Christian democracy, by the very fact that it is Christian, must be based upon the principles of Divine Faith in its endeavours for the betterment of the masses. Hence to Christian democracy justice is sacred. It must maintain that the right of acquiring and possessing property cannot be gainsaid, and it must safeguard the various distinctions and degrees which are indispensable in every well-ordered commonwealth.

Love, Drugs, Art, Religion: The Pains and Consolations of Existence

It is clear, therefore, that there is nothing common between Social and Christian democracy. They differ from each other as much as the sect of Socialism differs from the Church of Christ. As James Connolly, the great Irish Marxist and revolutionary martyr, whose polemics with the Catholic Church remain classic statements of socialism, commented: "If one of the boys at the National Schools could not reason more logically than that he would remain in the dunce's seat all his schooldays.

Imagine a priest who defends landlordism as Father Kane and the Pope does saying, 'The man who has tilled a field through the winter and spring has a right to hold as his own the harvest which he has earned', and imagining that he is putting forward an argument against Socialism. Socialists do not propose to interfere with any man's right 'to hold what he has earned'; but they do emphatically insist that such a man, peasant or worker, shall not be compelled to give up the greater part, or any, of 'what he has earned', to an idle class whose members 'toil not, neither do they spin', but who have attained their hold upon the nation's property by ruthless force, spoliation and fraud.

Connolly, Selected Writings , pp. That is to say, the Church considers class society to be fixed, eternal and of divine origin. Just compare that to the statement of St. Clement already quoted above who wrote: "The use of all things that are found in this world ought to be common to all men. Only the most manifest iniquity makes one say to the other, 'This belongs to me, that to you," Hence, the origin of contention among men.

This is absolutely typical of the attitude of the Church for centuries: an overt defence of the status quo and the division of society into classes. Subsequently, as a result of the growth of the labour movement and the irresistible movement in the direction of socialism, the Catholic Church was compelled to modify its stance. But under the present Pontiff, this has been sharply reversed. Do you consider it wrong to appeal to the courts when you are cheated? But the apostle writes that that is wrong. Do you offer your right cheek when you are struck on the left, or do you not institute proceedings for assault?

Yet the Gospel forbids that [ But you have been told that your treasure is not of this world. The activities of the Church in modern society are based on the most glaring contradictions and hypocrisy, as Marx pointed out in the passage quoted above. The revolutionary traditions of early Christianity bear absolutely no relation to the present situation.

Ever since the 4th Century AD, when the Christian movement was hijacked by the state and turned into an instrument of the oppressors, the Christian Church has been on the side of the rich and powerful and against the poor. Today the main churches are extremely wealthy institutions, closely linked to big business, in addition to the huge sums they get from the state, both in Moslem and Christian countries. In Spain, until recently, the Catholic Church, in addition to its huge wealth in land, buildings and bank accounts, was regularly subsidised by the state out of the taxes paid by all citizens, whether they are religious or not, although the people of Spain were never consulted about this imposition.

The same was true of other countries where the Church has reached a deal with the state establishing a privileged and lucrative position. Whatever one thinks about religion, such a state of affairs is clearly an intolerable violation of democracy. And although now, Spanish taxpayers are given the right to choose whether or not to donate money to the Church, the fact is that the latter is still given a privileged position to get access to public funds. In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church declared usury the lending of money at interest to be a deadly sin, now the Vatican owns a big bank and possesses enormous wealth and power.

The Church of England, apart from numerous other business interests, is one of the biggest landowners in Britain. It would be easy to show that the same state of affairs exist everywhere. Nor is this phenomenon confined to the Christian religion. The Koran also prohibited usury, yet in all so-called Islamic countries one sees big banks owned by Moslems. True, they resort to all manner of tricks to hide the fact, but the interest is still squeezed out of the people just the same. Politically, the churches have systematically backed reaction. In the s Catholic bishops blessed the armies of Franco in their campaign to crush the Spanish workers and peasants.

The Spanish fascist press frequently published photos of prelates giving the fascist salute. The Pope remained silent about the millions who were exterminated in the Nazi death camps, and, although officially, the Vatican was supposed to be neutral in the Second World War, in fact its pro-Nazi sympathies are well documented. Lewy writes:. In the history of ideas, the Church has always played a most reactionary role.

Galileo Galilei was forced to recant his ideas under threat of torture by the Holy Inquisition. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake. Charles Darwin was mercilessly hounded by the religious Establishment in England for daring to challenge the accepted idea that God had created the world in six days. To this day, the theory of evolution is under attack by the religious Right in the USA who want the first Book of Genesis to be taught in American schools in preference to the theory of evolution.

In the USA the religious right is a well funded movement that preaches reactionary causes. The Christian Freedom Foundation, an "educational lobby" is funded by J. Howard Pew, the founder of the Sun Oil Company and "other businessmen who espouse the free enterprise system".

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There are many other examples which show the close relation between the religious right and Big Business. These wealthy business people do not invest such sums for nothing. Religion is here used explicitly as a weapon of reaction. The Creationist movement in the USA involves millions of people and is -incredibly - spearheaded by scientists, included some geneticists. This is a graphic expression of the intellectual consequences of the decay of capitalism.

It is an extremely striking example of the dialectical contradiction of the lag of human consciousness. In the most technologically advanced country in the world, the minds of millions of men and women are sunk in barbarism.

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Their level of consciousness is not much higher than when men sacrificed prisoners of war to the gods, prostrated themselves before graven idols and burnt witches at the stake. If this movement were to succeed, as one scientist recently put it, we would be back in the Dark Ages. In the field of social legislation, and particularly the rights of women, the Roman Catholic Church has always played a reactionary role. It still denies women the right to control their own bodies, denying the right to divorce, contraception and abortion.

The present Pope, Karol Wojtyla, is outspoken on this question. The persistent opposition of the Church to artificial means of contraception is particularly disastrous in relation to AIDS. Yet a Gallop Poll of American Catholics showed that 80 percent of laymen and 50 percent of priests approved of artificial contraception, while a poll by the University of Maryland found that two-thirds of Catholics agreed that where their conscience was at odds with the pope, they should follow their conscience. Similar figures can be cited for other developed countries. In the realm of politics, the present Pope is an outspoken reactionary and enemy of Marxism and Socialism.

He was helped to power by the Opus Dei - that notorious Catholic Mafia which has its tentacles in every corner of political life in Italy, Spain and other countries. Engels pointed out in his preface to The Civil War in France that "in relation to the state, religion is a purely private affair. Everyone must be free to profess whatever religion he likes, or to profess no religion, i. However, in relation to the Party, Lenin also pointed out that Engels recommended that the revolutionary party should carry out a struggle against religion: "The party of the proletariat demands that the state shall declare religion a private matter, but it does not for a moment regard the question of a fight against the opium of the people - the fight against religious superstition, etc.

The opportunists have so distorted the question as to make it appear that the Social Democratic Party regards religion as a private matter. And he added that "the roots of modern religion are deeply embedded in the social oppression of the working masses, and in their apparently complete hopelessness before the blind forces of capitalism [ However, Marxists must do everything possible to involve all workers in the struggle against capitalism, including those who are religious.

We must not erect barriers between ourselves and these workers, but encourage them to participate actively in the class struggle. As we have already seen, in , the Russian working class entered the stage of history with a priest at their head, carrying religious icons in their hands, and a petition to the tsar - the "little Father". They distrusted the revolutionaries and sometimes even beat them up. Yet all that changed in 24 hours after the massacre of the ninth of January.

The same workers, on the night of the ninth, came to the revolutionaries, demanding arms. That is how rapidly consciousness can change in the heat of events! By the way, Father Gapon, who had organised the petition and the peaceful demonstration, and who had been working for the tsarist police, himself underwent a sudden transformation after Bloody Sunday. He called for the revolutionary overthrow of the tsar, and even came close to the Bolsheviks at one point. Lenin did not push him away, but tried to win him, although Gapon remained religious. Lenin's flexible attitude was shown by his attitude to strikes.

This is the gist of the matter. We fight for the unity of the workers' organisations above all lines of division: religious, national, linguistic or racial. Our task is to unite all the oppressed and exploited in one army against the bourgeoisie. Marxists have never made the acceptance of atheism part of the party programme. That was always a hallmark of anarchism. Very often a worker who is still a believer approaches the movement, convinced of its general programme and eager to fight for socialism, but unwilling to renounce religion.

What attitude should we take? Certainly not to push him away. Such a worker does not wish to join the movement in order to win converts to religion, but to fight capitalism. Probably, in time he will see the contradiction between his political and religious beliefs and gradually abandon religion. But the question is a delicate one and should not be pushed. As Lenin explained, Marxists "are absolutely opposed to the slightest affront to these workers' religious conviction". It is an entirely different matter when a middle class intellectual seeks to introduce confusion into the ideology of the movement, as was the case when Lenin was writing on religion.

A group of ultra-left Bolsheviks Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, etc. Lenin quite rightly fought against this trend. What will be the future of religion? On this question, of course, there will be a profound difference of opinion between Marxists and Christians and other religions. Naturally, it is not possible to look into the future as with a crystal ball, but one can say the following. Although from a philosophical point of view, Marxism is incompatible with religion, it goes without saying that we are opposed to any idea of prohibiting or repressing religion.

We stand for the complete freedom of the individual to hold any religious belief, or none at all. What we do say is that there should be a radical separation between church and state. The churches must not be supported directly or indirectly out of taxation, nor should religion be taught in state schools. If people want religion, they should maintain their churches exclusively through the contributions of the congregation and preach their doctrines in their own time.

The same basic observations hold good for Islam or any other religion. As far as we are concerned, the dialogue on religion will continue, but must not be allowed to obscure the fundamental problem of our epoch. Our first and overriding task is to unite in struggle with all those who wish to put an end to the dictatorship of Capital that keeps the human race in a state of slavery. Socialism will permit the free development of human beings, without the constraint of material needs.

For centuries, organised religion has been used by the exploiters to deceive and enslave the masses. Periodically, there have been revolts against this situation. From the Middle Ages to the present day, voices have been raised in protest against the subordination of the Church to the rich and powerful. We see this also at the present time. The suffering of the workers and peasants, the martyrdom of the human race under the infamous despotism of Capital, is arousing the indignation of wide layers of people, many of whom are not acquainted with the philosophy of Marxism, but who are willing to fight against injustice and exploitation.

Among these are many honest Christians and even the lower orders of the clergy, who daily bear witness to the sufferings of the masses. The Theology of Liberation is an expression of the revolutionary ferment in Central and Latin America. The lower orders of the priesthood are appalled by the suffering of the oppressed masses and have taken their place in the struggle for a better life. The Church hierarchy, which for hundreds of years has developed a comfortable relation with the rich landowners, bankers and capitalists, combat the new trend or grudgingly tolerate it.

Thus, the class struggle has penetrated into the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church itself. Similarly, among Moslems, the ideas of Marxism have begun to gain an echo, as the oppressed masses of the Middle East, Iran, Indonesia, begin to take action to improve their lives and look for a programme of struggle to overthrow their oppressors.

What is required is the overthrow of capitalism, landordism and imperialism. Without that, no way forward is possible. The only programme that can ensure the victory of this struggle is that of revolutionary Marxism. A fruitful collaboration between Marxists and Christians and Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and followers of other religions in the struggle to transform society is absolutely possible and necessary, despite the philosophical differences that separate us. Honest Christians are deeply offended by the terrible oppression suffered by the majority of the human race.

Camillo Torres, a former Colombian priest, once declared: "I have cast off the priest's habit in order to become a real priest. It is the duty of every Catholic to be a revolutionary; it is the duty of every revolutionary to carry out the revolution. The Catholic who is not a revolutionary is living in mortal sin. These are the worthy successors of those early Christian revolutionaries who stood for the cause of the poor of the earth, the sinners and the oppressed, and were not afraid to give their lives fighting against oppression.

They are the modern martyrs whose memory should be held in respect by all who hold dear the cause of freedom and justice. Between and , over priests, nuns and bishops were arrested, tortured, murdered and killed in Latin America. The Salvadorian Jesuit Rutilio Grande, before he was killed was quoted as saying: "Nowadays, it is dangerous [ Although organised religion has lost a lot of ground in recent years, religious ideas have re-surfaced in a bewildering array of sects and cults, some offering an "alternative life style". To the degree that this can sometimes reflect a growing dissatisfaction among a layer of the youth with the capitalist system, its inhuman, soulless outlook on life, the empty commercialisation of all aspects of existence, the crude materialism, the endless and all-pervasive money-grubbing, the rape of the environment etc.

But then the problems begin. It is not enough simply to reject capitalism. It is necessary to take concrete steps to abolish it. The common feature of all these "alternative" movements - New Ageism, etc. Along this road, no way out is possible. And in the last analysis, the protagonists of this so-called alternative present no alternative whatsoever. Capitalism can live quite happily with a few people who have decided to "drop out". This presents no threat to it, since the masters of power continue to control the life of society as before. Even those who profess to "drop out" will find in practice that they cannot drop out.

They are obliged to use money, buy the necessities of life in the shops, fill up their old vans at modern filling stations, where they will purchase their products from the big oil companies that ravage and pollute the environment, be shunted from one area to another by the cops - just like the rest of us. The idea that it is possible to turn one's back on society and politics is an illusion.

Just try it! And you will find that one day politics will come to your house and ring the doorbell if it does not smash the door down first. The attempt to find an individual solution is essentially reactionary because the only way to fight against capitalism and the bourgeois state is to unite the working class and organise it in a revolutionary movement.

To opt out of this is, one way or another, to place yourself at the mercy of Capital and to help perpetuate the existing order. In order to cover their nakedness, the advocates of New Ageism claim to stand for special spiritual values which - as they imagine - sets them apart from "ordinary" mortals and places them in a direct line of communication with supernatural things that passeth all understanding.

They thus feel themselves superior to the rest of humanity which is not privy to these great Mysteries. In reality, these ideas are not superior to the thinking of ordinary mortals but rather far beneath it. The first law for one who seeks to change society is to understand it and live in it. By trying to turn one's back on society, all that is achieved is to become completely powerless in the face of existing society, and to renounce eternally, hopelessly, irrevocably, all chance of changing it. Along this path lies not an alternative, but only more of the same - forever.

Religion is what Marxists would call a false consciousness, because it directs our understanding away from the world and towards an otherness, about which we can know nothing and about which it is useless even to ask questions. The whole history of science sets out from two fundamental assumptions: a The world exists outside myself and b I can understand this world, and even if there are things which I do not know at present, at least I am capable of knowing them in the future.

To establish a limit beyond which human knowledge is not supposed to trespass is to open the door to all manner of mysticism and superstition. Yet for more than 2, years, humankind has been struggling to acquire knowledge of ourselves and the world we live in. For all that time, religion has been the enemy of scientific advance, and not by accident.

To the degree that the advance of scientific thought has enabled us to understand things that in the past were seen as "mysteries", religion has been pushed back and now finds itself fighting a desperate rear-guard action to save itself. In the struggle of science against religion - that is to say, the struggle of rational thought against irrationality - Marxism sides wholeheartedly with science. But there is more to it that that. The whole purpose of acquiring rational knowledge of the world is to change it.

The inner meaning of all human history for the last , years - and more - is a ceaseless struggle of humanity to win the battle with nature, to control its own destiny and thus to become free. The roots of religion lie in the distant past, when humans were struggling to free themselves from the animal world from whence we come.

In order to make sense of natural phenomena which were beyond their control, humans had recourse to magic and animism - the earliest forms of religion. In its day, this represented a step forward in human consciousness. This infantile stage of consciousness should have been left behind along ago, but the human mind is infinitely conservative and clings to concepts and prejudices that have long lost any reason to exist.

In class society, the concept of "love thy neighbour" has a hollow ring. The market economy, with its attendant morality of dog eat dog, beggar my neighbour etc. In order to change the conduct and psychology of men and women it is first necessary to change the way in which they live. In the words of Marx, "social being determines consciousness".

The entire world is dominated by a handful of gigantic monopolies which plunder the globe, ravish the planet, destroy the environment and condemn countless millions to a life of unbearable misery and suffering. The ladies and gentlemen who sit on the boards of directors of these multinational corporations are mostly practising Christians, with a lesser number of Jews, Moslems, Hindus and other creeds. However, the real religion of capitalism is none of these. It is the worship of Mammon, the god of wealth. Capitalism turns human relations inside out.

So twisted and distorted have things become that we refer to a man as being "worth a million dollars" - as if we were speaking about an article of merchandise. The television refers to the stock exchange, the market, the dollar and the pound as if they were living beings "The pound was a little better today". This is what alienation is all about: dead things Capital are seen as alive and living things people, labour are regarded as dead, trivial, meaningless.

Human development has a descending line as well as a line of ascent. The layer of modern culture and civilisation which has been built up for thousands of years is still very thin. Below it lies all the elements of barbarism. If anyone doubts that, let them study the history of Nazi Germany, or the recent events on the Balkans. In its period of ascent, the bourgeoisie stood on the ground of rationalism - yes, and atheism too.

Now, in the period of capitalist decay, irrational trends appear everywhere - even in the most advanced and "cultured" states. If the working class does not succeed in changing society, all the gains of the past will be under threat, and the future human civilisation itself will no longer be guaranteed. The devastation inflicted by capitalism on the entire world has produced countless monstrosities. In its period of senile decline, it has also given rise to religious and mystical tendencies of the most retrograde sort. The reactionary role of religion can be seen today all over the world, from Afghanistan to Northern Ireland.

On all sides we see the ugly monster of fundamentalism: not just Islamic fundamentalism, but Christian, Jewish and Hindu fundamentalism. The message of brotherly love and hope is turned into the flames of despair, hate and mutual slaughter. Along this road, nothing is possible except barbarism and the extinction of culture and human civilisation.

The cause of these horrors is not so much religion itself, as superficial observers try to maintain, but the crimes of capitalism and imperialism, which devastate whole countries and communities and destroys the fabric of society and the family without putting anything in its place. Fearful of the future and despairing of the present, people seek solace in the supposed "eternal truths" of a non-existent past. The rise of so-called religious fundamentalism is only a concrete expression of the impasse of capitalist society, which drives people to despair and madness.

But, as we see in Iran and Afghanistan, the promises of a religious heaven on earth is an empty dream that ends in a nightmare. Religion cannot explain anything that is happening in the world today. Its role is not, in fact, to explain, but only to console the masses with dreams and rub on their wounds the balm of a false promise. But one always awakes from a dream, and the effects of even the sweetest balm soon wear off, creating a pain more intense than ever. Religion is a false consciousness, when what is needed is a real consciousness - a scientific view of the universe and our place in it.

The prior condition for winning our freedom as human beings is a radical break with dreams and a willingness to see the world as it is and ourselves as what we are: mortal men and women, striving for an existence worthy of human beings on this earth. From time immemorial, men and still more women have been educated in a spirit of servility. We have been taught to think that we are weak, impotent, that, no matter what we do, it makes no difference, that "man proposes, but God disposes".