People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 17, 2010

CPI(M), Rectification and Religion

Prakash Karat


Dr K S Manoj, a former MP of the CPI(M) from Kerala, has announced recently that he is quitting the Party.  The reason cited by him is that the Party, in its rectification document, has directed Party members not to participate in religious ceremonies.  Since he is a firm believer, this goes against his faith. Hence he has decided to give up his Party membership.

This step by Dr Manoj has been projected by some sections of the media as if  being a member of the CPI(M) would be incompatible with the religious faith of a person.   Some well-meaning religious leaders have asked the Party if this is a decision taken to exclude believers from the Party.  First of all, the CPI(M)'s basic stand on religion needs to be spelt out.  The CPI(M) is a Party based on the Marxist outlook.    Marxism is a materialist philosophy and its views on religion share the same roots as the Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century.  Based on this, Marxists want the State to treat religion as a private affair.  There should be a separation of State and religion.

Marxists are atheists, i.e., they believe in no religion. But Marxists understand the origin of religion and the role it plays in society.  As Marx said, �Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, just as it is the spirit of the spiritless situation�.  Hence, Marxism does not attack religion per se. But the social conditions which make it �the sigh of the oppressed creature�. 

Lenin, while expounding the Marxist standpoint  on religion and its atheist outlook, himself posed the questions: �If this is so, why do we not declare in our Programme that we are atheists?  Why do we not forbid Christians and other believers in God to join our Party?�  Lenin answered these questions by explaining that for Marxists, the attitude to religion is determined by the concrete conditions of the class struggle.  The priority for the working class party is to unite workers irrespective  of whether they believe in religion or not,  in the class struggle against the oppressive capitalist order.  As Lenin put it: �Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more important to us than unity of  proletarian opinion on paradise in heaven�. 

Therefore, while the CPI(M) upholds the materialist outlook, it does not bar people having religious faith from joining the Party.  The only condition for membership is acceptance of the Party Programme, the Constitution and the willingness to work under Party discipline in an organisational unit of the Party.

In the present Indian conditions, the CPI(M) is not fighting religion but communalism based on religious identity.  The CPI(M) is a consistent advocate of the rights of religious minorities. 

There are, among the members of the CPI(M), some who have religious faith.  They belong to the working class, peasantry and other sections of the working people.  Among them some go to the temple, mosque or church to pray.  They, like Dr Manoj himself has said, combine their religious faith with work among the poor and the toiling people. 

The CPI(M) has no hesitation to join hands with  believers and those religious leaders who espouse the cause of the poor, or, act in defence of the rights of the working people.

In Kerala itself, there is a long history of such cooperation. EMS Namboodiripad had written about the areas of Marxist-Christian cooperation and conducted a dialogue with some of the leaders of the church. Having said this, the issue at present is not the basic position of the CPI(M) towards religion and people of faith joining the Party. It is to do with the rectification campaign that is being undertaken within the Party.

The Party expects its leading cadres to absorb the Marxist world outlook based on dialectical materialism.  By this, in the process of becoming a Marxist, Party members adopt the scientific world outlook and shed  religious belief. 

There are two aspects of religious activity which are mentioned in the rectification campaign document adopted by the Central Committee. 

One of the guidelines given is educate the Party members to eschew all social, caste and religious practices which are alien to Communist norms.   Party members are not being asked to give up their religious faith or practice.  But if there is any religious custom or practice which goes against Communist norms such as practice of untouchability, depriving women of equal rights or obscurantist customs such as preventing widows from remarriage etc. which are given religious sanction � these are to be given up.  The direction in the rectification campaign is to see that Party members do not practice social, or, religious customs which entail caste, gender or social discrimination.

The second refers to the guidelines for the conduct of leading Party functionaries  and elected representatives.   They have been asked not to host  lavish weddings for their family members and refrain from taking dowry.  They have also been asked not to organise religious ceremonies or  personally conduct religious rituals.  Leading Party cadres such as leaders of state committee, district committee, zonal/area committees etc are expected to uphold progressive values in their personal and social lives.  They should not organise religious ceremonies, or, personally conduct rituals. It is another matter that they may have to participate in social functions with religious ceremonies organised by others, especially if they are elected representatives like MLAs, panchayat members and so on.  Communist Party leaders cannot profess something in public and do something else in their personal life. 

So, to sum up: The Communist Party does not bar persons who have religious faith from joining the Party.  While they may practice their faith, they are expected to also uphold secularism and oppose the intrusion of religion into the affairs of the State.

The rectification guidelines are designed to help Communist Party members live by Communist norms and values.  As far as the leading cadres are concerned, the Party expects them to behave like Marxists both in their public and private life. 

Dr Manoj is wrong in stating that the CPI(M) guidelines for its leading cadres on religious practice is against the Indian constitution.  The constitution provides for a secular State which guarantees the right to practice one's religion to a citizen.  It also ensures the right for a citizen not to practice religion.  The CPI(M) is an organisation in which citizens voluntarily join if they subscribe to its philosophy. 

The guidelines referred to are not new.  They were set out in 1996 when the first rectification campaign document was adopted.  Anyway, since the matter has now been raised, it is necessary for us to clarify the Party's stand on religion and the Communist outlook.