Marxism & Religion: China, Sri Lanka & Latin America
Charlotte S. Wellen
cwellen at pen.k12.va.us
Tue Aug 27 00:04:33 MDT 1996
Greetings to Comrades from Wei En Lin
dear wei en lin,
RE: yours of 08/25/96
Notwithstanding the fact that many so-called "religious wars'
in history are actually the ideological recruitment methods in
dragooning the working people for fighting what are really
exploiter class conflicts (east and west), I think we need to
put your examples in historical perspective .
This is fair. I do not disagree with your point. My view is
simply that religion is sometimes a positive force employed by
the exploited against the exploiters.
You observe that:
. . .none of the examples you cite are proletarian class
fights against the bourgeoisie (though for sure the workers and
other classes are profoundly affected by them , their outcomes,
The 1911 Chinese revolution was bourgeois/ nationalist,
anti-feudal & anti-monarchical was it not? Even this
"revolution' did not get very far before reaction dug in for
the long haul. Looks like the 1949 CCP/KTT revolution in the
main had to implement a bourgeois programme . . .
I agree with you completely about the 1911 Chinese revolution.
Your analysis is correct. I was, however, primarily speaking
of the Taiping rebellion, a revolutionary movement which lasted
>from 1851-1864. The founder of this movement was Hong Xiu Quan
(pronounced Hoong Shyoo Chwan, in English). He studied the New
Testament carefully and claimed to have a revelation from the
Christian God regarding the creation of a new social order.
The ideals of the Taiping rebels could be summarized as follows:
the abolition of private property, the nationalization of land,
the introduction of primitive communism . . .There was a common
treasury for all, each person to take according to his needs,
and no private saving was allowed. Free and compulsory
education was provided for all children
. . . women had the same rights as men in all realms of life,
including inheritance, land allocation, participation in
government service and in the army
(See Wu Tien-wei, 'Lin Biao and the Gang of Four:
Contra-Confucianism in Historical and Intellectual
This Taiping Kingdom spread from Nanjing outward to encompass
all of central China.
You make the point:
Part of the dialectic is that understanding that what was
revolutionary in one period of history can become reactionary
in another later period.
I agree with this. But ideologies, religions, philosophies,
all undergo complex alteration throughout history. In some
cases a religion can undergo a transformation which will make
it a force for positive change.
Let us examine the case of Liberation Theology in Latin
America. Your analysis touches on many key points. You say,
'Liberation theology' (mainly latin america) is not as cut and
dry as you present. Here workers/farmers struggling directly
against capital is posed, but the liberation theologians were
not socialist but radical liberal reformists with left-social
democratic programmes. In the main, they considered
communism/marxism almost as much the enemy as the
capitalist/imperialist domination. Liberation theology was
needed by the official church itself to refurbish its image as
a bulwark of exploiter reaction and to keep the workers/farmers
>from going over toward to the full marxist programme. This
explains why the catholic church, has in the last six years or
so, since the radical marxist influenced mass movements have
gone into ebb in much of latin america, has pink slipped the
liberation theologian crowd and moved back to a more open
traditional rightist stance more fitting for bourgeois ruling
classes facing deep economic decline.
I have no doubt that what you say is true in some cases. Many
who try to turn 'Liberation Theology' inside out to suit the
needs of the ruling classes. I also would concede that some
Liberation Theologians fulfill the function you describe.
What you say is, however, more true about the priests who have
constructed 'the option for the poor' (Drafted in Medellin).
Liberation theology is explicitly Marxist in its social
analysis. It is avowedly socialist, and usually supports Cuba
as a model to be emulated. The Catholic hierarchy has tried to
fend off the liberation theologians by creating the 'option for
the poor.' The hierarchs have tried to suppress Liberation
Theology, by explicit condemnation, denying priests who
advocate it the right to function, expelling them,
excommunicating them, and even looking the other way when the
paramilitary groups exterminate them. If they were mere pawns
of the church as you suggest, they would not be so feared by
Rome. Many advocates of Liberation Theology have joined the
ranks of the revolutionaries in San Salvador, Honduras, and
Nicaragua, and given their lives in the struggle.
When I was in Costa Rica last year, during Easter, I was
suprised to hear radical sermons, which denounced the
capitalist economic system and the two party political system,
utilizing the language of Marxian analysis and Liberation
theology. The Zapatistas in Chiapas (Mexico), rather than
rejecting the traditional Mayan religious beliefs, are
employing them in pursuit of their radical political goals.
So, my main point is that revolutionaries can and, IN SOME
CASES, should find what is common in religious ideologies and
progressive politics. The wholesale rejection of religion, IN
ALL CASES, as inherently reactionary, is a mistake.
Concerning the uses of religion in Sri Lanka, you ask:
Can you clarify. I mean i am not an expert on Sri-Lanka but I
don't see any of the main combatants/classes in the
Sinhalese-Tamil civil war as having any socialist opposition to
capitalism/imperialism. I don't even think that THEY try to
claim that any more, in fact the same groups that use religion
and nationalism there today for exploitation used to claim to
be (falsely) some kind of marxists 2 decades ago (Bandarnaike
regime/JVP movement, etc), again the religion seems used more
to stir up ethnic enmity and hatred amongst workers/farmers
than for any kind of progressive purpose.
You are absolutely correct about the mainstream entrenched
political parties and their use of Buddhism to buttress
Singhalese nationalist and chauvinist attitudes. This
employment of the most reactionary aspects of Buddhist
mythology is beyond contempt; unfortunately it does succeed in
deceiving large masses of people.
But I am speaking of the positive use of Buddhism by leftist
movements such as the Sarvodaya. They get little press. In
Sri Lanka they are under a news black out; the main newspapers
have 'tacitly' agreed to print nothing about the movement.
Sarvodaya has tried to import printing presses to get their
radical message out; but the government has confiscated these
and accused Sarvodaya leaders of treason because they receive
donations from foreigners. I have described Sarvodaya's
activities in an August 25 posting.
Your comments on faith are of great interest. I would like to
respond to them later.
Wei En Lin
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