Remembering One Abhijit Roy

Of Religion and Marxism

Aloke Mukherjee

On February 26, 2015, a group of religious bigots killed Abhijit Roy, a rationalist blogger, for his opposition to religious obscurantism. The incident took place in Dacca. No person with some degree of conscience can look upon such a horrific act by an organized group as condonable. While condemning the killing and pledging to fight out such forces, one has to face a concrete question, the question of combating these killer groups in the name of religion and bringing the people out of the quagmire of religion, which was the mission of Abhijit Roy. With the exception of one Hindu (Brahminical, to be exact) religious text, namely the Bhagbat Gita, no single text of any religion, be it Hindu, Islam, Christian or any other, teaches people to kill others in order to preserve or save religion, dharma. But there had taken place and still are taking place killings, conflicts, wars, pogroms, riots and attacks on ordinary people—all in the name of religion—in different parts of the world. After that event of 11 September, the US President gave the call for a crusade, "a war between two civilizations". There was opposition throughout the world against this statement, but very few cared to call it an act of terror or instigation to terror and nobody branded it as Christian fundamentalism (whatever that term might mean), though it was a clear and unambiguous attempt to rally the Christians of the world behind the imperialist design of the US to carry on its war in the Middle East in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism.

Against this backdrop, real methods and strategies for combating the use of religion in the interests of few, and for abolition of religion should be drawn, be it in the USA or in India or Bangladesh or elsewhere in the world. The best strategy so far was laid down more than one century ago by Karl Marx. But the tragedy is that most of the Marxists, especially in this subcontinent, never tried to understand it, let alone act accordingly. As a result, a single phrase of Marx was quoted without context. " It (Religion) is the opium of the people." And they started asking people to get rid of this 'opium', going to the extent of sermonizing. But if  one looks at the paragraph itself, one shall find what Marx actually meant. He said, " Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creatures, the sentiment of a heartless world, and soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." [Karl Marx' Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy, (ed) T B Bottomore and Maximilian Rubel, p-41] Here a Marxist worth his salt should differ from rationalists (both of idealist and mechanical varieties) in that people's faith in religion does not grow just from a subjective understanding of the world, but does have a real basis in the real world. One may quote what Marx, just before penning the sentences quoted above, said about the "making of religion". "Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is indeed man's self-consciousness and self-awareness as long as he has not found his feet in this universe. But man is not an abstract being, squatting outside this world. Man is the world of men, the State and society. This State, this society, produces religion, which is an inverted world consciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, is encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its general basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human being as long as the human being possesses no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion." (Ibid, p-41).

In the present world, imperialists and their cohorts running the states also utilize religion for their own purposes. They need religion to keep the people in a state of passivity, to keep them from acting against this real world of oppression and suppression facing them at each and every moment and to fall back upon a Supreme Being for amelioration. On the other hand, those who are vying for power without any qualitative change in the state and the society try to utilize religion as a means to rally the people behind them. Sometimes a few non-state actors, as in the case of the killers of Abhijit Roy, use terrorist activities in the name of religion in order to pave the way for either of the contending parties vying for power. In some cases, they act for either of two belligerent states fighting each other.

So far about the making of religion, how and why people fall back upon religion and also how this is utilized by the state, the existing society. But the point is how to change the condition, how to create a situation where people would not feel the need to fall back upon religion. Can it be done by explaining that no superstructural being does exist? Can it be done by demonstrating how Hydrogen and Oxygen, combined in definite quantities in a definite condition, produce water? Yes, a small section either placed in an opportune position in society or having highly developed consciousness about Nature and society will understand it. To that extent, such a rational approach will succeed, and that is certainly an achievement. For the majority of the people, however, it would not work, the reason being that because of the conditions under which they live, they need their consolation in the illusion of religion. So it will not be sufficient to abolish religion, and for that matter, the bigotry of those vested interests who need religion for their benefit.

In this contest, Marx said, "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men is a demand for their real happinness. The call to abandon their illusions about their conditions is a call to abandon conditions which require illusions." (Ibid, pp 41-42)

This means creation of a society where there would be no exploitation, oppression or suppression of men by men, people would be happy to live a life of their own choice by working according to their ability for the society and getting what they need from the society.

This is the goal people have to reach for complete abolition of religion. To reach that goal certain tasks must be fulfilled, certain immediate tasks have to be taken up. On that also Marx had the following to say :
"The immediate task is to unmask human alienation in its secular form, no that it is unmasked in its sacred form. Thus the criticism of heaven transcends itself to criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and criticism of theology into the criticism of politics." (Ibid, p-42)

Thus real steps towards abolition of religion can only be to change the world around us. Without a concrete practice to change the state and society, which are based on an unjust relationship between man and man, all efforts to abolish religion will not only fail, but may even become counterproductive. That is why just a call to abandon religion cannot motivate people to do so. Rather those who try to do that either get alienated from the people or unwillingly become pawns in the hands of powers-that-be. That is why a section of them, getting frustrated, becomes members of the puja committes or goes to Tarapith in he name of integration with the people. That is why the US imperialists often reward a section of rationalists for their criticism of Islam. That is why the RSS circulated pirated copies of 'Lajja' by Taslima Nasrin, when it was proscribed. Moreover, one also finds persons who, instead of calling the people to combat the religious bigots who killed Abhijit Roy, appeal to the state to punish the killers and laments that had the state punished the killers of Humayun Azad earlier, such acts would not have been repeated.

The task is simple but difficult. It is simple because instead of any abstract idea, there is a concrete solution before the society. "The religious reflection of the real world can, in any case, only finally vanish when practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable conditions to his fellowmen and to Nature." (Marx, Capital, Vol-I,p-84) In order to get out of the present irrational world, and to reach " perfectly intelligible and reasonable conditions", the people will have to get rid of this exploitative and oppressive system. So the call to the people should make it clear that so long as the people live in a society where exploitation of man by man is the order of the day, they cannot reach a life of real happiness. It is only by changing this unjust society that the people can become masters of their own lives. And what sort of society do they need?

"The life process of society, i.e. the process of material production will not shed its mystical veil unless it becomes a product of freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. This, however, demands for society a certain material groundwork or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development". (Capital, Vol I, p-84)

At the same time, the task is difficult. The reason is that it can be accomplished only when a society whose material production will be carried on by "freely associated men" and is "consciously regulated" by them according to "a settled plan" comes into being. This means a communist society. Such a society can evolve from the womb of a socialist society through "a long and painful process of development". But in the present world context, after the change of colour of both the USSR and China, it has become harder and more difficult.

But it is also true that the USSR and China had shown the path; they had their successes that shook the world. They had their positive and negative aspects. Positive in the sense that people had seen their great achievements. Ngeative in the sense that people often became blind, blindly following them and blindly supporting each and every action of them. But the failures have their positive side. Endowed with experiences of both successes and failures, Marxists are now more steeled, and as the cause is before them, they have to rise to the occasion.

Hence, in order to avenge the murder of Abhijit, let us go to the people, get integrated with the toiling masses, and share their weal and woe, be students before being teachers. Let us rally the vast masses of the people to fight out the irrational social order. Once that is done, the ugly faces of the murderers and their masters behind the scene will be unmasked and they shall not be able to hide themselves behind the veil of religion. Their real character as enemies of the masses will be clear.

Autumn Number, Vol. 48, No. 14 - 17, Oct 11 - Nov 7, 2015