Anton Pannekoek 1947
Source: annexe to Workers Councils;
Translated: by Adam Buick;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden.
Religion is the oldest and most deeply rooted of the ideologies which still play a role today. Religion has always been the form in which men have expressed the consciousness that their life was dominated by superior and incomprehensible forces. In religion was expressed the idea that there is a deep unity between Man and the world, between Man and nature, and between men and other men. With the evolution of labour, of the various modes of production, and of knowledge about nature, as well as with changes in society and the evolution of the relations between people, religious ideas changed.
Today’s religious ideas were mainly formed four centuries ago during the violent class struggle which the period of the Reformation knew. This struggle — a struggle of the rising bourgeoisie and commercial capital against the mediaeval domination by landed property, a struggle of the peasants against their exploitation by the nobles and clergy — also assumed a religious form. At that time nature, like society, was badly understood and the profound sense of submissiveness which resulted led to the idea that a supernatural force ruled both the world and humanity. But the content of this idea varied with the environment, the poverty and the basic needs of the believer: it took one form for the rich and the petty bourgeois, another for the prince and the prelate, and yet another for the proletariat of the towns. Organisation into sects with different beliefs and creeds which expressed the class interests and antagonisms of that time recalls the organisation into political parties in the 19th century. Changes of belief, the setting up of new churches were forms of passionate social struggle. When in 1752 the Dutch towns rose against Spain and put William of Orange at their head, they did so by abandoning the Catholic and joining the Calvinist church.
The forms and names which the various creeds took — the way in which religion presented itself — then as later, was of course linked to mediaeval and primitive forms of Christianity. But their basic content, their essential character, was determined by the birth of bourgeois society, of commodity-production. The forces which dominated the life of Man were no longer natural forces — for these had already been mastered to a certain extent by the new form of labour which was developing — but were still unknown social forces. The producers were forced to transform the commodities they produced into money. But for a producer to know if he could sell his commodities and how many depended on something beyond his control, on the market and its prices, determined by social production as a whole and competition. However hardworking or capable he was he could just as easily become impoverished and even be eliminated as succeed and become rich. This power which dominated him was the commodity transformed into money and concentrated in the form of capital. He was no longer the master of his fate. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” But it was no longer as it had been previously, where it was the inner being which a physical power could raise or bring down which was involved; now it concerned the most minor activities of the mind, of thought, of calculations, of the will, of passion; it was a question of a mental force dominating social activity. This society is a single unit; despite the differences between peoples and races, trade connects its various parts and makes them a homogeneous whole. Consequently there is only one god, a pure all-powerful mind, who reigns over the world and decides the fate of men as he pleases. Thus do the religious ideas of the bourgeois express the basic experience which their world has of the social forces which dominate it.
But the influence of the bourgeois mode of production is just as great on the moral consciousness of men as on their spiritual conceptions. The free producers are independent of each other; it is everyone for himself in unbridled competition. Egoism is the first condition of existence: let someone make a mistake in this implacable struggle of each against all and all against each and he risks being crushed. The producers nevertheless form a coherent whole: they have need of each other and work to satisfy their mutual needs. They are linked by buying and selling: despite all the struggles they engage in, they form a community. But community means that each member’s will is limited by obligatory rules. No regular exchange of commodities could take place if everyone lets himself be guided purely by personal egoism: the mutual exchanges demand conformity to certain rules of behaviour and a knowledge of what is permitted and what is not. Without such norms defining honesty and good faith no lasting trade would be possible. It goes without saying that these rules are not always respected by everybody. On the contrary, if personal interest or the needs of self-preservation demand it, they are violated, to a greater or lesser extent as the case may be. But this is done knowingly and this general norm, considered as an eternal moral imperative, is still kept in mind. This conflict between personal interest and the common social interest, between the act and the rule, is the manifestation in the sphere of ethics of the internal ambiguity of the bourgeois world. The moral law — according to Kant — does not rule because it is obeyed but precisely because it is not. This law is not a practical fact but the internal consciousness of what ought to be done. In bourgeois society the idea predominates that in this world people can only survive by sinning against the rules of morality. And it is indeed a sin which we are talking about for the spiritual forces, whose origin in society is not understood, are felt as divine emanations: the moral law is an order that has come from God. And any offence against this law is an offence against God.
One problem dominates all the religious thought of past centuries: how can the sinner redeem himself before God, how can he obtain his salvation, how can he avoid the punishment he has merited. Later 19th century critics posed the following very logical question: why does Man need a remission of his supposed sins since the Creator himself must alone be responsible for what he created? And they justly mocked the strange lucubrations of a clever theology which sought to make all this intelligible. But they forgot the incontestable fact that the idea of sin was at this time very well established and could not have been eradicated from people’s minds by arguments. This proves that this notion had a deeply rooted social origin; it drew its strength, both at the time of the Reformation and in the later periods, from the contradictions of the bourgeoisie, i.e. from the contradictions of bourgeois production.
The religious struggles of the century of the Reformation, the ideological form which the class struggle took at that time, were expressed theologically in the discussion about Grace. In the countries of the South where the bourgeoisie was not very strong, where absolute monarchs reigned and where the central power and apparatus of a mediaeval Catholic church was maintained, indeed strengthened through re-organisation, this church declared that salvation could not be obtained without it and required a total submission to the clergy. The bourgeoisie of Western Europe, on the other hand, whose strength was continually growing and who were ready to conquer the new world which was opening up before them, affirmed their freedom by means of the Protestant doctrine which saw Grace as a result of personal faith without having to have recourse to priests. In Germany where the inevitable resistance to the exploitation of Rome coincided with the beginning of an economic decline, this faith took the form of Lutheranism, of a submission to the orders of the princes. The poor peasants, exploited to death, and the proletarians scarcely felt themselves to be God’s creatures, but rather victims in this world; they considered themselves charged with a sacred duty: to establish the Kingdom of God, that of equality and justice, on Earth. All these religious differences were embodied in as many theological doctrines which reflected the differences and antagonisms between classes and social groups: but these religious differences were in fact not understood as this by those involved; they did not perceive their social origin, even though in the 16th century, during a desperate class struggle, wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions followed one another.
When these struggles died down order was re-established; the differences and antagonisms lost their sharpness; the churches became rigidified into small groups; they became dogmatic; their new members always came from the same families: people entered through birth. In fact the dividing line between the different churches were the results of past struggles and wars, and their stability and cohesion were the result of the tradition and solidarity of their members. But within each small group new class antagonisms developed: the centuries which followed saw rich and poor, landowners and farmers, bourgeois and workers living together in each church. In the period immediately after the Reformation, however, class differences only appeared in the form of beliefs and the struggle for these beliefs. But, for the rich bourgeois, religion was no longer so important; it played a much weaker role for them than for the petty bourgeois and the impoverished and oppressed peasants and they were consequently much more tolerant. Among the latter it took impassioned and fanatical forms (as for example the German Pietists, the Dutch Reformed Church and the English Methodists) which sometimes led to a split in the original church.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the struggle of the bourgeoisie for power sometimes took the form of an ideological struggle against traditional religion. The power of the princes, nobles and clergy was in fact supported by a religious doctrine, by the authority of a church (the Catholic Church in fact) which guaranteed the sacred character of the old institutions. The church, as in France before the 1789 Revolution, was often the biggest landowner; the expropriation of its land and its redistribution to the peasants — a precondition for capitalist exploitation — was a prime source of wealth for the bourgeoisie. They appealed to and favoured the development of the natural sciences since these were the basis of industrial technology and machinery, but they also used them in their ideological struggle. For the laws of nature which were discovered showed that it was impossible to retain the primitive ideas of traditional religion and sacred truths. Thus in using the new knowledge against the old teachings they pursued their then interest, and they sought to remove the vast mass of petty bourgeois and peasants from the influence of the church and to line them up on their side. By making these masses pass from a belief in the church to a belief in science, they undermined the political power of the dominant class and strengthened their own.
In the 19th century the struggle against traditional religion led in all countries to a retreat of obscurantism and to undeniable progress; but in ways which differed according to the particular situation. Where, as in England, a rich bourgeoisie reigned, these showed themselves prudent and tolerant since they did not want to break their links with the nobility and the church and consequently it was the petty bourgeoisie and the workers who waged the most fierce and radical struggle in the spiritual sphere. But where, on the other hand, the bourgeoisie had still to raise itself and met an obstinate resistance (as in Germany) the anti-religious struggle immediately took extreme radical forms. Scientists and intellectuals in general placed themselves in the front line of propagandists: a wave of books and articles aimed at popularising scientific discoveries spread. And it was precisely because the practical, political struggle of the German bourgeoisie was so noticeably weak that the theoretical side had to develop. It did this with very different results ranging from benign and liberal Christianity to the most total atheism.
The struggle waged by the bourgeoisie whether for or against religion remained on the ideological level: that of Truth, of general and abstract concepts. In this form it had nothing to do with social objectives. It goes without saying that the bourgeoisie could hardly have revealed its social objective, that of installing the domination of capitalist exploitation; it had to disguise this behind ideas, ideals, those of a political and abstract legal liberty. Thus the struggle between religion and science remained in appearance on the level of ideas. The most radical opponents of religion, most often from the petty bourgeoisie, called themselves “freethinkers”, wishing to show thus that they were free of the dogmas and old teachings of the churches and that they sought the truth, by their own thought, in the most complete of liberties. But the idea that men’s thought was determined by society, that religious and anti-religious conceptions were born in fact from the mode of production, could not occur to them, since their own knowledge did not extend beyond the natural sciences. But they were to get a good illustration of this, to experience it live, through the intermediary of the fate of their own doctrine.
For the majority of the bourgeois class in fact atheism was not the best theory. It is possible that in their first enthusiasm they believed that, with the coming of the bourgeois order, an era of general well-being, of universal happiness, would commence and that all the problems of everyday life would be solved and that consequently no supernatural or unknown power could dispose of Man’s fate; humanity in solving, thanks to science and its technical applications, the practical problems of material life would at the same time solve problems of theory. But this was only a passing illusion. For, in the end, at the bottom of their subconscious remained the idea that with the struggle of men against each other, with competition, no man was in fact the master of his fate. And it was soon revealed that other new forces were at work in this new world. Periodic commercial and industrial crises, unforeseeable and mysterious catastrophes, brutally interrupted progress. The irresistible growth of industry reduced workers and artisans to the most atrocious poverty: the uprisings of the starving in England already showed the beginning of the organised class struggle. From the depths of these insurgent masses new ideas sprung forth which, like a new “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsim” traced in letters of fire by a prophetic hand, announced to the bourgeoisie their future decline. But the bourgeoisie could not reach a clear, scientific understanding of the true character of society for this would at the same time have revealed their own exploiting and slavist character and would have taught them that their mode of production was transitory. That would have meant that they would have had to sacrifice themselves, with the result that the internal strength to continue the struggle would have been lacking. But the bourgeoisie did feel itself a young enough force to continue to fight to conquer the world and impose its domination on the working masses. A class which feels itself capable of waging a practical struggle cannot do this without the theoretical conviction that it is right and will win; so it constructs a suitable theory and disseminates it. This is why the bourgeoisie had to draw their strength from an instinctive belief that it was not material forces which dominated the world and their own future, but transcendental spiritual forces. Thus the bourgeoisie as a class had to allow religion to survive; the religious way of thinking was completely adapted to their social situation. But this religion was of course quite a different thing from the traditional doctrine of the church. The intolerant and intransigent dogmas were succeeded by more flexible, more rational ideas and the vague feeling that instead of God the avenger, terrifying Jehovah, there reigned in heaven a tolerant and debonair god, sometimes even so vague and so little existing that he transformed himself into a simple moral ideal.
But to the extent that the workers’ movement later arose as a threat, the bourgeoisie more and more turned back to religion. Mystical ideas got more and more of a hold on the general thought and output of its spokesmen. Certainly from time to time one saw some signs of rationalism resurging, especially at the time when the big bourgeoisie felt itself strong enough to conquer the universe with its industry and its capital; but, strengthened by violent world crises and destructive wars, the feeling of uncertainty, of anguish in the face of the future, developed in the bourgeoisie and, with this, mystical and religious tendencies grew.
In the 19th century there appeared within the working class a completely different materialist conception, connected with its way of life and class position. It was different from the atheism which had played a role in the struggle of the bourgeoisie. Atheism is opposed to theism, to belief in God; for it, the essential problem is: does there exist a God who rules the world. Materialism does not deal with this problem; it is interested in the forces which really dominate the world: these are material forces, that is real and observable forces. For the forces which dominate the workers are visible and clearly identifiable: they are social forces. As soon as the workers reach an understanding of their class position they realise that their common fate is determined by capitalism; they realise that their exploitation is the result of the necessity for capital to accumulate by making profits; they realise that through the struggle which they wage in increasing numbers they will become capable of overthrowing capital and abolishing exploitation. Their thought moves within the realities of the world; the old question of whether or not there exists a God who rules the world does not arise for them. It is meaningless, just as is the question posed in the Middle Ages of how many angels can dance on a pinhead. Religious questions and problems have no interest for the workers since they play no role in the questions which really move them to act. And because they play no role, religious questions and problems disappear from the consciousness of the workers and finally disappear altogether.
This then is the difference between atheism and materialism. Atheism essentially attacks religion, considering it the main cause of ignorance and oppression, and fights it because it sees in it the most dangerous enemy of progress. Materialism sees religion as a product of social relations and consequently does not interest itself at all in religious questions as such, but in so doing does not any the less undermine religion. Materialism has to deal with religion from the theoretical point of view alone, to show that it is an important historical phenomenon, and thus to understand and explain it. In practice, however, atheism and materialism have existed side by side in the workers’ movement. It often happens in fact that a worker brought up in a religious tradition, begins to think on the basis of his personal experience of reality, i.e. in a materialist way, and then notes that his previous beliefs disappear. In this period of doubt and internal contradiction, he has recourse to atheist works and to books popularising science in order to triumph over tradition by coming to understand.
Atheism has only once played an important role: during the Russian revolution. In the 19th century Russia was an immense country peopled by uncultivated and poverty-stricken peasants, just freed from serfdom, living in a quite primitive poverty and subjected to the cruel and incompetent despotism of the Tsar and the landed nobility. West European capitalism exploited the country as a sort of colony: the starving peasants had to pay heavy taxes which went to repay the debts contracted by the Tsar for his war policy and his wasteful expenditure. Nevertheless in some large towns were to be found a constantly increasing number of factories managed by foreigners which employed a working class population recruited from the peasantry and deprived of all rights. The struggle against Absolutism and to obtain a more liberal political structure was waged by small groups of intellectuals who, as in Western Europe, were the spokesmen of the bourgeoisie and fought on their side. But here in Russia, where no powerful bourgeoisie existed, the first struggles — the most well known being those of the Nihilists — were brutally crushed. It was only at the beginning of the century when the workers’ movement with its strikes was born that the activities of the intellectuals acquired a solid basis. The revolutionary intellectuals then became the spokesmen, propagandists and educators of the working class. And to this end they turned to the workers’ movement of Western Europe and particularly to Social Democracy. They borrowed the ideas and theories of the Social Democrats and in particular the Marxist theory of the class struggle and the economic development of capitalism. They dedicated themselves body and soul to the struggle, carrying out unrelenting propaganda for the workers to organise into the “Bolshevik party” and to thus undermine the Tsarist regime. And when the Tsarist regime collapsed, worn out by two unsuccessful wars, this party took power in 1917 in the course of a workers’ and peasants’ revolution.
The character of the Bolshevik party, its doctrine, ideas and propaganda were thus ambiguous. They had to accomplish a task which in Western Europe had been the work of the bourgeois revolution: to wage the struggle against royal absolutism, against the domination of the nobles and the church and to clear the way for industrial development and the education of the people. But here the force which had to accomplish this task was the working class which had already shown signs of socialist tendencies going beyond capitalism. But the corresponding socialist doctrine was influenced by ideas connected with the struggle of the nascent bourgeoisie against the princes, nobles and the church. Russian religion had a nature even more ignorantly and primitively bigoted than in western Europe, resting even more on a flowery liturgy and on the worship of images, the miracle-working icons. The spiritual struggle had to be largely directed against this ignorance on which Tsarism rested and to do this recourse had to be had explicitly to atheist and anti-religious propaganda. This is why the writings of the “young Marx,” i.e. his works before 1846, dating from a time when their author was one of the leading fighters for a mainly bourgeois German revolution, provided arguments and slogans of prime importance for this struggle.
When, once in power, the Bolsheviks began to organise industry and had to consolidate their domination over the peasant masses, anti-religious and atheist propaganda became even more significant and important. It was an essential part, even the basis, of the intense campaign to educate the people. The illiterate muzhiks were not affected much by arguments drawn from the natural sciences, but the fact that the atheist propagandists were not reduced to dust by lightning seemed to them a sufficient proof to get them to burn the images of the saints and to let the priests die of hunger. The young peasants willingly attended the agricultural and professional schools to acquire the new knowledge. There thus appeared in Russia a new generation, brought up outside of all religion.
Under Bolshevik rule industry, with its central planning and its organisation based on scientific techniques, developed at an impressive speed, despite the difficulty of changing old habits of work, adapting them to the pace of machines. Agriculture too underwent a transformation, imposed by force, which made it a network of big mechanised enterprises. A large bureaucracy of political and technical leaders became master of the State, the means of production and the products. And, despite the name of Communism which is frequently attributed to this regime, and which is in fact false, the working class does not rule industry: it receives low wages which are fixed by higher authorities and is in fact exploited, the surplus value being at the disposal of the government which applies it to further develop the productive apparatus and for its own use. In this economic system, State capitalism, the bureaucracy plays the role of a new ruling class, a role in many respects the same as that played by the bourgeoisie in Western Europe.
The harsh oppression which this system imposed on the mass of workers and the often fierce struggle which the peasants waged against the setting up of large agricultural enterprises and for the defence of private property led to opposition which, in the absence of political freedom, frequently took ideological forms. In many cases a revival of religion occurred. For, aware of its impotence in the face of the central power, this opposition had to take a form hostile to the official doctrine of the leaders of the regime and, as religious belief was the only means of active opposition and collective protest, this led to a strengthening of former ignorance. And in retaliation this opposition led to campaigns against religion.
Such is the basis of the revival of religion which is often pointed out in Russia. This development proves the groundlessness of the atheist theory which sees religion as the outcome of a tradition resulting from the trickery of the priests which is forcibly imposed upon children, and which should consequently disappear with this practice and with the study of scientific truth. In fact religion rests on a mode of production and cannot disappear until working humanity is free and the master of its labour, of its fate, or when it sees this possibility. It can thus be said, as regards Russia, that to the extent that State capitalism, by permanently developing production, either places the masses before the necessity to take their fate completely into their own hands by a more and more determined struggle for their liberation or, on the other hand, leads to a strengthening of the dictatorship, atheist ideology will either be transformed into conscious materialism or will retreat before a return of religious beliefs.
For the first time in human history there appears a life without religion amongst the working masses; but this is not a question of an aggressive anti-religious attitude, of a struggle against religion as such. Important fractions of the working class in fact remain on the surface and quite formally faithful to churches and religious forms. But in reality they have learned to consider the phenomena of the world and the happenings of life as governed by natural forces, to such an extent that traditional religious ideas and beliefs take second place. This is the reason why the materialist conception, while it progresses in thinking, does not do so in full consciousness, nor in an absolute manner, nor everywhere. Where the workers’ labour power is permanently pitted against terrifying natural forces which are not properly dominated as a result of the weakness of capitalism, and which threaten them with death (as is the case for example with miners and fishermen), it is natural that their consciousness remains full of religious ideas and belief. Further, where the church, whose strange collection of political positions is known, chooses the workers’ side and puts its strength at their disposal in the struggle against capital as if it were its own cause, for dozens of years the workers feel linked to it, even if the church’s position later comes to change. The development of the materialist conception is thus itself subject to variations of historical conditions.
This type of phenomenon first appeared during the ardent struggle which Chartism waged. The English workers, who were the first to do so, had to find their own way, both practically and theoretically. Their struggle coincided with that of the bourgeoisie against landed property; this is why bourgeois radicalism had such an influence on the English workers. It is only the more remarkable that, amidst traditional ideas, there can be found in the Chartist press new radical, atheist, materialist ideas already expressed with considerable force. Certainly a good part of these came from the past being inherited from a radical tradition — rationalist thought. After 1848, however, when the English bourgeoisie had achieved its aims and had made itself, thanks to its industry and trade, masters of the world, it recuperated for its own account almost the entire traditional doctrine of the Church; and when the working class itself had, thanks to the trade union movement and the winning of the right to vote, taken its place in capitalism and received its share of the profits of monopoly capital — in other words when it in fact accepted capitalism — it adapted its ideas to this new situation. It set about adopting the ideas of the bourgeoisie: its modes of thought were bourgeois, but ones which followed those of the radical petty bourgeoisie. This happened, for example, with its acceptance of religious tradition, of the ruling belief, which most often took the form of adhesion to the petty-bourgeois, non-conformist church (Low Church) as opposed to the official Anglican Church (High Church).
It was quite different in Germany where, during the second half of the 19th century capitalism and the workers’ movement were born simultaneously. The accelerated development of large-scale industry and the agreement between the bourgeoisie and the landed proprietors who then held power meant that the workers had to fight these two enemies at the same time; as a result there was a rapid growth of Social-Democracy. The German working class benefited from an important advantage in the formation of its new conception of the world, that of having available the scientific studies of Karl Marx. These uncovered the forces and tendencies of the social development which governed the birth and future decline of the capitalist mode of production and thus showed the working class what were its task and destiny. Marx, in the course of his historical studies, at the same time perfected a method, historical materialism, which not only uncovered the relation of dependence between the course of history and the economic development of society, but which also traced the way which leads to a naturalist conception of all mental phenomena which until then had been tied to religious and mystical theories. Thanks to this method, the materialist ideas of the Social Democratic workers were able to develop without hindrance and to grow stronger. They were expressed in a whole literature. But this did not occur without struggle or discussion. For modes of both religious and atheist thought had been inherited from the bourgeois world. And it often happens that when the bourgeoisie renounces its former fighting positions, these are taken up by the petty bourgeoisie and the workers who do not want to accept this “betrayal of principles” and who continue the old tradition. It was thus with atheism which had come to be considered a basic and radical principle. But atheism only considered the ideological forms without paying attention to the deeper fundamental differences between the bourgeois revolution and the proletarian revolution. It had little influence on Marxist ideas, as was reflected in practice in the programme of the Social Democratic Party where it could be read that religion is a private matter (Religion ist Privatsache). This point of view, however, had the result not only of correctly limiting the Party’s aims to the economic transformation of the mode of production, but of serving as an open door through which all sorts of opportunist ideas could pour through into propaganda. In the end it became and remained a matter of controversy in the political discussions within the Party.
Later, when in the 20th century, reformism, connected with prosperity, came to dominate thinking more and more consciously, bourgeois points of view progressively took over in all spheres. The bourgeoisie, its power strengthened, forced the working class to espouse its cause in the struggle for world domination; this is why certainty as to the coming of Socialism waned. This new doubt led to a revival of religious feelings amongst the workers. In Germany the acceptance of the leadership of the bourgeoisie resulted in a receding of independent and materialist ideas. It was the same everywhere.
But as soon as the working class comes to wage its struggle for power, to conquer the factories, to master production, all this will change. This struggle more than ever demands an ever clearer consciousness of the economic aim. Unity of action is more than ever needed. The workforce must form coherent units of action: ideological divergences such as exist in the trade union movement cannot be admitted. The workforce discusses its action as the unit which will carry out the task; if religious divergences were to be admitted the unity of this whole would be threatened and all practical action would become impossible. This is why such divergences must be entirely kept out of the discussions amongst members of a factory. For it is here that the most ardent, the deepest and the most self-aware social struggle develops, which no longer disguises itself under ideological tinsel. A clear consciousness takes hold of the combatants. All deviation from the direction which leads to the objective must be ceaselessly corrected, since it means a weakening and defeat.
It is probable, however, that, even during such a struggle, religion will play a role since it still dominates the thought of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasants. The bourgeoisie will try to organise these classes and to range them against the workers. It will first of all appeal to the instinct of property, thus disguising its exploiting interest. But it will also try to give this fight an ideological form and will present it as a clash between belief and unbelief. And this will make the class struggle harsher; it will become more cruel as a blind fanaticism comes to dominate and to replace all discussion on the subject in the interests of these classes. But, here again, the strength of the working class lies in their putting the economic aim to the forefront, viz., the organisation of work by the working and producing classes themselves, thus excluding all domination by the interests of the exploiters. It is thus that all trace of the oppression of former modes of thought will disappear since, with the collective management of production, the basis and condition for a genuine expansion of the thought and cultural life of all will appear. Finally, if the economic necessities force these classes to collaborate with the working class, if their participation in the work of uniting promises them emancipation from all capitalist exploitation, so that the old class relations disappear, it must be expected that a new cultural life which will replace former religious convictions will flourish for them also.
Thus, in all probability, the sources which, in the history of mankind have up until now fed the forces of religion will dry up. No natural power will any longer be able to frighten Man; no natural catastrophe, no storm, no floods, no earthquake or epidemic will be able to put his existence in danger. By ever more accurate predictions, by an ever greater development of the sciences and of an ever more wonderful technology, the dangers will be limited to the maximum: no human life will be wasted. Science and its applications will make mankind the master of natural forces which it will use for its own needs. No powerful or not understood social force will be able to attack or frighten mankind: they will master their fate by organising their work and at the same time master all the mental forces of the will and passion. The anguish of having to go before a supreme judge who will decide the fate of each person for eternity — an anguish which has been responsible for centuries for so many terrors for defenceless mankind — will disappear as soon as co-operation between men and sacrifice for the community are no longer fettered by moral laws. Thus all the functions which religion fulfilled in men’s thought and feelings will be filled by other ways of thinking and feeling.
But will not an eternal function of religion remain: to give consolation and certainty in the moments of dying and death? The certainty of being able to ensure one’s life by one’s work, the disappearance of many of the causes of premature death, poverty, illness and accident have no influence on the biological fact that every living being has a temporary existence. The significance of this fact, however, and its influence on mankind’s ideas is strongly dependent on social relations. Belief in the survival of the mind, of the soul, the psychological basis of all religion (which can already be seen forming among primitive peoples on the basis of dreams), is, in its present form, a product of the bourgeois mode of production. The very strong sentiment of individual personality which has its roots in individual work carried on under one’s own responsibility, in the separation from the other’s activity, reduces this belief to the need to believe, to be convinced, that the individual, in his real, i.e. mental, essence is eternal. Each individual was isolated — or loosely held by the very lax links which unite the members of any grouping — in the struggle for life. Around each individual there existed, however, a small group, such as the family, a sort of small isolated and independent fortified town at war with other towns. Thus the biological links between couples and between parents and children became the only solid links between men, both on the economic and material level and on the mental. The breaking of these links, whether expectedly or unexpectedly, was in everybody’s eyes the greatest of all catastrophes: the worries which the dying had for those they left behind, the loneliness of the latter, which was often aggravated by economic ruin, were only feebly compensated by the presence of parents and friends, who were themselves preoccupied mainly by their own struggle to live. This is why, thanks to a belief in a new meeting in eternity for those who were separating, and to a faith in the providence to which Man had to submit in order to be able to bear the caprices of fate, religion served for centuries as a consolation.
With the establishment of the new mode of production many of the reasons for believing will disappear and particularly those we have just examined. The feeling of individuality will be profoundly changed by the feeling of solidarity which will develop, to which one will dedicate oneself and from which one will derive one’s greatest strength. Then, there will no longer be any need for the illusion of believing in the eternal life of the individual or the soul: it is in fact the community to which one belongs which is eternal. Everything which has been produced by Man, everything to which he has dedicated the best of his forces survives within this community. His mental being is eternal insofar as it forms part of the mentality of all mankind and has no need to survive as some spectre separated from it. Links of solidarity, much stronger than those which in the past united the members of the same family will unite all men. There will no longer be any need to worry about the economic consequences of death, nor to concern oneself for the survivors — worries which, formerly, often made dying more distressing. And the pain of having to leave for ever will weaken since the strengthened links of human fraternity will no longer retreat before feelings of isolation and loneliness. Death will lose its frightening character for a generation which will have learned, in the course of a fierce struggle for its freedom, to sacrifice its own life. And the feeling of love for the community which will thenceforth dominate will grow stronger in the community of work in which the free producers will be grouped together. For the fortunate generation in which the new mankind will be born, each individual life will only be the temporary form taken by a social life which will more and more develop.