With the world gone to dogs where millions are condemned to back breaking labour for mere subsistence wages, millions denied jobs, millions inducted in Army for “defence” against constructed or imagined communities/neighbours or in Police for “law and order” purposes defending unjust law against the poor “criminal” and weaker neighbor or poor “voter,” millions dying hungry or because of malnutrition or preventable diseases, the poor majority can’t afford quality food, health care, education and personal transport, genuine democracy is missing almost everywhere, inflation taken as given, banks allowed to serve as the agents of the moneyed class primarily, it is high time all progressive forces join hands to defeat the monster of Capitalism. But Capitalism has succeeded in making Marxism and religion pit against each other. Marxism must understand religion better to see into the game and better fight the exploiters. Why should religion be considered enemy of the working class? We must note that it is religion/mysticism which until the rise of Marxism made people aware of injustice and exploitation at the earthly plane. Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (S.A.W.) were all critics of the establishment and spoke for the oppressed. Without resort to violence religious impulse has been able to feed countless people, to arrange their shelter and even work towards the freedom of the slaves. Islam has prohibited begging because its economy ensures that no one needs to beg. Even today most donors give in the name of God. It is another matter how the wealth to be donated has been acquired and religion has taken ample care to stress purity of means. Most of Capitalist profiteering and interest based banking is outlawed. One can’t exploit the lack but demand small profit for work that fulfills others need. Market, for the Prophet of Islam (S.A.W), is the most detested place. Market fundamentalism is incompatible with every religion.
Marxism is utopian in thinking that the evil in man can be finally overcome by ameliorating economic discrepancy. Man has spiritual needs – the most important component of his needs – and for millennia these needs have been fulfilled by religions as channels of transcendence. Now either we have to deny that these needs are real or assert that we can provide substitutes for transcendence. Both the options have been tried and have failed. That man will be a casualty in any worldview that puts ends above the means, that believes its metaphysics to be not only true but exclusively so and bans other views, that asserts that mankind has been mostly, throughout history, cherishing illusions is not difficult to see. Marxism asserts that mankind’s great thinkers have been duped by ruling class, that prophets too have been naïve in important matters. It asserts that almost all the people all the time throughout history have been fools or badly mistaken regarding an important matter of life and that all the institutions that civilizations have maintained have been primarily forms of exploitation. It writes off history of civilization as an effect of brutal struggle for power. It is also disputable to it that art has anything to do with truth, truth of a higher kind. It says that art, religion, philosophy are wholly understandable with reference to material conditions of the time. It denies real creativity and freedom to think. Even self reflection is ultimately not possible as consciousness can’t really detach itself from its determining conditions. Mystics have not found anything worthwhile. Poets are basically dreamers. Scriptures are neither holy nor true nor beneficial. Perhaps they are better burnt to ashes. Countless monuments of art and architecture have been built not by visions but by alienated unhappy men. Now all these positions that follow from a materialist metaphysics and absolute determinism based on material forces of production (granting relative autonomy of superstructures doesn’t mean much as ultimate determining force of the base is not denied) are difficult to accept for anyone who wishes to account for countless facets of history of civilization and culture. Marxism provides invaluable insight into the structures of society. It makes us aware that we are being exploited and it rightly identifies the key culprit. But it unfortunately too is a product of history, conceived by fallible men. It is wedded to a metaphysics and set of ideas that have a stamp of human thinking and therefore questionable or fallible thinking. Marxism besides being a science in political economy is also a speculation which can go wild and an exercise of imagination that may know no bounds. On purely scientific terms it made many erroneous assertions as has been amply demonstrated. It attempted to conceive of science in strictly Marxist terms and made big mistakes. Its attempt at Marxization of whole knowledge is an enterprise that doesn’t fulfill, at many points, strictly scientific criteria. It puts ideology before truth as it declares all ideas as unscientific which don’t corroborate the doctrines of dialectical materialism. Some Marxist thinkers have already shown flexibility in modifying the received dogma, in reconstructing Marxism and opening it up to many contemporary thought currents. I think the time has come that Marxism revaluate its reading of religion and be prepared to have a dialogue with spiritual traditions of the world. Hitherto it has been throwing the baby of mysticism with the bathwater of what is ordinarily identified with religion.
Marxists have misread religion on almost all important points. They have rightly noted that religion is vulnerable to be appropriated by the exploiter. Religion as understood by the greatest prophets and sages in all traditions is neither consolation, nor a system of ideas, nor an attempt at representation of our relationship to reality nor a talk about this world or the otherworld. It is not a picture of the world. It is not a metanarrative. It is not a perspective or a view that could possibly be refuted. It is too existential an affair like love to be discredited. Science or change of socio-economic conditions, can, in no way, show it exit.
Marxism concerns with man’s social self while as mysticism to the individual self. Marxism limits itself to the temporal and the contingent though it thinks that there is nothing that transcends them but religion has its eye on the eternal and even grants that people know better about the worldly matters and should resolve them by collective effort. The spirit in man transcends history but Marxism refuses to look beyond history.
We need not defend mysticism against Marxism or pit them against each other. They cater to different domains of life and if we subtract the purely speculative or doctrinal material from Marxism it nicely complements the mystical side of our life. Marx is a mystic, albeit a secular one and not fortunate enough to have been vouchsafed the vision that makes man love life and bless it and conquer all the hardships besides purely material ones without bitterness of heart or resentment. A mystic is pure compassion while as Marx stops at concern for the other only. Marx makes it possible to feed and clothe millions – if it were not for Marx capitalism would not have accepted such compromises as welfare state and state regulations to certain extent in certain matters. Marx compelled the world to increase wages and take other measures for the welfare of labourers. Most of us need to be thankful to Marx for challenging capitalism so forcefully that proletariat have won some part of the looted booty back. Marxism has made a great difference to the labourer even in noncommunist countries. History has few benefactors greater than Marx. But lest we forgot the contribution of mystics and prophets. Most sciences, arts, crafts and much poetry cultivated in traditional cultures owe their origin and even development to mystical impulse. Coomaraswamy’s account of history of art and Guenon’s account of history of sciences which attributes all that is great and noble and enduring to the discoveries of intellectual intuition can’t be dismissed even if one accepts much of Marxist explanation.
Final remarks about Marxist rejection of religion here. The cost of rejecting religion is too high to invite second thought from all progressive forces or those who care about mankind. Man is a religious animal. Modern anthropology is convinced of this though modernity has attempted various reductive interpretative maneuvers to explain away the undeniable. Man needs God more than he needs food. He can live for days without food but he can’t live a moment without having faith in life, in some meaning of it, in love. The moment one feels life is worse than death one despairs and that despair is hell. Consenting to live life and live it meaningfully, vibrantly, creatively is what faith signifies. Faith is not that you can dream of rejecting. Rejecting faith is rejecting life. There are degrees of this faith and an atheist and mystic differ only in degree. Marx too had a sort of faith but immensely impoverished version of it. Faith in life’s sanctity is implication of religious faith. Marxists have historically been using violence inadvertently. One must use violence against injustice and wrongs of Capitalism but not lose sight of the fact that violence has been used against all critics of buerocracy and totalitarianism in Marxist states. Marx may not have condoned Stalin or even Leninist policies that involved use of great amount of violence. But there is no doctrine remotely resembling the doctrine of ahimsa in Marx. To man is not an option given to hide fully from God; he can imagine sometimes that he has hidden himself from the gaze of Reality but willy nilly he is summoned to face It. Marxism tried to hide from God but then it had no defence against the beast in man.
Mysticism delegitimizes Capitalism on psychological, moral and spiritual grounds. Marxism questions it on historical and economic grounds. If the both combine the rule of the rich supported and represented by Military against people eveywhere, rulers against ruled, market against nonmarket forces and greed against need will end soon. We need faith without making it an ideology that fundamentalism stands for and Marx without Marxism that easily degenerates into Stalinism (Marx denied being a Marxist) for a more humane world.