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P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire)
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Socialism . . . Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation
Socialism . . . Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation
Price: £7.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A crazy system… and the alternative, 8 May 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This little book is an excellent introduction to the genuine Marxist idea of “socialism from below”. Katch shows that there is an alternative to the exploitation, oppression, racism, sexism, alienation, economic crises, wars and environmental destruction inherent in the capitalist system; and he shows that this alternative involves working people collectively and democratically taking power and running society themselves.

For many people Marxism is a dirty word because of its association with the bureaucratic tyranny of the Stalinist regimes of Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc. But these regimes had/have nothing to do with genuine Marxism, as anyone who reads this book will see.

An appealing feature of the book is the way that Katch uses humour as a weapon. As he says, “Capitalism is destructive and inhuman, but it’s also silly, and mocking its absurdities reminds us that a system this dumb can’t possibly be indestructible.”

Phil Webster.


From Russia with Love (Penguin Modern Classics) by Fleming, Ian ( 2004 )
From Russia with Love (Penguin Modern Classics) by Fleming, Ian ( 2004 )

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining if you can get past the sexism, 12 April 2016
If you can manage to ignore the occasional sexist, racist, homophobic, snobbish and right wing intrusions, as well as the “corny” elements, some of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels are actually quite good.

My personal favourites are Moonraker, Dr No, Thunderball, and this one, From Russia with Love.

I first read this book about fifty years ago, when I was in my early teens. I have watched the brilliant film version many times, but I had forgotten how entertaining the book is until I read it again recently.

It is a genuine “thriller”, and is in places very well written. How about this, for example?

“Everything conspired to make him sleep – the hasty metal gallop of the wheels, the hypnotic swoop of the silver telegraph wires, the occasional melancholy, reassuring moan of the steam whistle clearing their way, the drowsy metallic clatter of the couplings at the end of the corridor, the lullaby creak of the woodwork…”

And in the book, as in the film, the atmosphere created in the scenes in Istanbul and on the Orient Express oozes romance and excitement.

It is interesting to compare the Bond films with the books. For me, the only three great Bond films are the first three: Dr No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. In the case of From Russia with Love and Dr No, the books are also good. In the case of Goldfinger, the film is better than the book. But with Thunderball the book is much better than the film.

With Thunderball the films started their sad decline. Today all we are left with in the Bond films are countless spectacular action sequences (which become boring), produced with the aid of all the high-tech special effects that are available to film-makers today. But there is no substance to the films. They are all form and no content.

Finally, I will end with a particularly gross example of the sexism that you have to be able to get past if you are going to try to enjoy this book. In Chapter 15 the “Kerim” character is telling Bond about his life. He says that he was “wild” when he was young. He won a “Bessarabian hell-cat… in a fight with some gypsies…”

He then kept her “chained naked under a table” so that she would learn “who was master”. Kerim’s mother found out and was really angry with him. She made him release the girl, but the girl refused to leave Kerim!

Each reader will have to decide whether this is so outrageous that they are going to throw the book in the bin, or whether they can brush it aside and read on.

Phil Webster.


From Russia with Love: James Bond 007 (Vintage Classics)
From Russia with Love: James Bond 007 (Vintage Classics)
by Ian Fleming
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining if you can get past the sexism, 12 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If you can manage to ignore the occasional sexist, racist, homophobic, snobbish and right wing intrusions, as well as the “corny” elements, some of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels are actually quite good.

My personal favourites are Moonraker, Dr No, Thunderball, and this one, From Russia with Love.

I first read this book about fifty years ago, when I was in my early teens. I have watched the brilliant film version many times, but I had forgotten how entertaining the book is until I read it again recently.

It is a genuine “thriller”, and is in places very well written. How about this, for example?

“Everything conspired to make him sleep – the hasty metal gallop of the wheels, the hypnotic swoop of the silver telegraph wires, the occasional melancholy, reassuring moan of the steam whistle clearing their way, the drowsy metallic clatter of the couplings at the end of the corridor, the lullaby creak of the woodwork…”

And in the book, as in the film, the atmosphere created in the scenes in Istanbul and on the Orient Express oozes romance and excitement.

It is interesting to compare the Bond films with the books. For me, the only three great Bond films are the first three: Dr No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. In the case of From Russia with Love and Dr No, the books are also good. In the case of Goldfinger, the film is better than the book. But with Thunderball the book is much better than the film.

With Thunderball the films started their sad decline. Today all we are left with in the Bond films are countless spectacular action sequences (which become boring), produced with the aid of all the high-tech special effects that are available to film-makers today. But there is no substance to the films. They are all form and no content.

Finally, I will end with a particularly gross example of the sexism that you have to be able to get past if you are going to try to enjoy this book. In Chapter 15 the “Kerim” character is telling Bond about his life. He says that he was “wild” when he was young. He won a “Bessarabian hell-cat… in a fight with some gypsies…”

He then kept her “chained naked under a table” so that she would learn “who was master”. Kerim’s mother found out and was really angry with him. She made him release the girl, but the girl refused to leave Kerim!

Each reader will have to decide whether this is so outrageous that they are going to throw the book in the bin, or whether they can brush it aside and read on.

Phil Webster.


Charles Darwin Volume 2: The Power at Place: The Power of Place: Power of Place v. 2
Charles Darwin Volume 2: The Power at Place: The Power of Place: Power of Place v. 2
by Janet Browne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Volume 2 of “the definitive Darwin biography”, 6 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is the second part of a really excellent two-volume biography of Charles Darwin, one which the great evolutionary theorist Ernst Mayr called “the definitive Darwin biography”.

This second volume takes up the story a year or so before the 1859 publication of “On the Origin of Species”. Darwin was dilly-dallying about publishing a book on his theory of natural selection, when, in June 1858, he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace in which Wallace enclosed a paper which showed that he had just come up with the same theory. Wallace did not know that Darwin had already had the same idea.

Darwin was torn: he didn’t want to lose the credit for having thought of the theory himself much earlier than Wallace; but on the other hand he didn’t want to treat Wallace badly. Two of Darwin’s scientific friends came up with a solution. They made a joint presentation of Wallace’s paper and some extracts from Darwin’s unpublished writings on the theory to the Linnean Society.

To make matters worse, all this commotion coincided with the illness and then death of the Darwins’ youngest child.

As in the first volume, there is certainly plenty of ammunition in this book to shoot down the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the credit for the theory of natural selection from Wallace. Wallace certainly deserves credit for independently coming up with the same idea, but Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin’s priority, pointing out that “...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence...”

Darwin probably started thinking seriously about “transmutation” on the last stretch of his Beagle voyage in 1836. He certainly opened his first notebook on the subject in 1837, and the idea of natural selection as the mechanism of evolutionary change came to him, after reading Malthus, in 1838. In 1842 he wrote what he called the “pencil sketch of my species theory”, and in 1844 he wrote a fuller and more polished version.

Darwin’s letters, notebooks and the two essays/sketches, show beyond question that all the key ideas that Darwin made public in 1859 in “On the Origin of Species” had already been developed by him much earlier.

Stephen Jay Gould once described Darwin as being “radical in his scientific ideas, liberal in his political and social views, and conservative in personal lifestyle...”

This book by Janet Browne shows us that Gould’s summary of Darwin is a perfectly accurate one. Browne describes Darwin’s personality, his personal life, his class position, the social context of nineteenth century England, and the influences which led him to develop his theory of natural selection, as well as Darwin’s researches and the theory itself.

The only thing that I was not happy about with this second volume was the fact that it was not published until seven years after the publication of the first volume. Even allowing for the enormous amount of research that went into these books, that is a long time! I remember that when the first volume came out in 1995 I decided not to get it until the second one was published, so that I could buy and read both together. I didn’t think that I would have to wait for seven years to be able to do that. Still, that’s water under the bridge now. Darwin fans can read, re-read and savour both volumes.

Phil Webster.


Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1
Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1
by Janet Browne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars “The definitive Darwin biography”, 6 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is the first part of a really excellent two-volume biography of Charles Darwin. If you want a well-written, in-depth and very detailed Darwin biography, then this is the one for you. The great evolutionary theorist Ernst Mayr called it “the definitive Darwin biography”. Browne’s study is, on balance, even better (and definitely even more detailed) than that other great biography, “Darwin”, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.

Stephen Jay Gould once described Darwin as being “radical in his scientific ideas, liberal in his political and social views, and conservative in personal lifestyle...”

This book by Janet Browne shows us that Gould’s summary of Darwin is a perfectly accurate one. Browne describes Darwin’s personality, his personal life, his class position, the social context of nineteenth century England, and the influences which led him to develop his theory of natural selection, as well as Darwin’s researches and the theory itself.

This first volume covers Darwin’s childhood and youth, his voyage on the Beagle, and then his life back in England up to 1856, when he finally decided to start writing up his theory in detail for publication.

There is plenty of ammunition in this book to shoot down the ridiculous conspiracy theory which claims that Darwin stole the credit for the theory of natural selection from Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace certainly deserves credit for independently coming up with the same idea, but Wallace himself was always happy to play second fiddle to Darwin. For example, in 1908 Wallace made a speech to the Linnaean Society in which he explicitly defended Darwin’s priority, pointing out that “...the idea occurred to Darwin in October 1838, nearly twenty years earlier than to myself (in February 1858); and that during the whole of that twenty years he had been laboriously collecting evidence...”

This book shows that Darwin probably started thinking seriously about “transmutation” on the last stretch of his Beagle voyage in 1836. He certainly opened his first notebook on the subject in 1837, and the idea of natural selection as the mechanism of evolutionary change came to him, after reading Malthus, in 1838. In 1842 he wrote what he called the “pencil sketch of my species theory”, and in 1844 he wrote a fuller and more polished version.

Darwin’s letters, notebooks and the two essays/sketches, show beyond question that all the key ideas that Darwin made public in 1859 in “On the Origin of Species” had already been developed by him much earlier.

For example, in a letter of 1844 Darwin tentatively let his friend Hooker in on his secret theorising and research: “...I am almost convinced...that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable...I think I have found out (here’s presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends.” He also set out the theory in an 1857 letter to Asa Gray.

I also find the personal side of Darwin’s story interesting, including, for example, the tragic and moving story of the death of his daughter Anne, and the worries that Darwin’s theories caused for his religious wife, Emma.

There are only two things that I am not happy with Janet Browne about. Firstly, there is the fact that seven years passed between the publication of the two separate volumes of this biography. Even allowing for the enormous amount of research that went into these volumes, that is a long time! I remember that when the first volume was published in 1995 I decided not to get it until the second one was published, so that I could buy and read both together. I didn’t think that I would have to wait for seven years to be able to do that. Still, that’s water under the bridge now.

My second quibble is that Browne speculates, without any real evidence, about the sexuality of Robert Grant, whom Darwin met in Edinburgh. Darwin ended up losing his respect for Grant because he felt that Grant had appropriated some of Darwin’s own researches. But Browne, uncharacteristically, rather wildly speculates that the rift might also have developed because Darwin might have “proved unresponsive to late-night suggestions of a different nature.” Evidence?

But these two points in no way prevent me from thoroughly recommending this wonderful biography.

Phil Webster.


Spectre [DVD] [2015]
Spectre [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Daniel Craig
Offered by Direct Entertainment Supplies
Price: £9.89

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All form and no content, 14 Mar. 2016
This review is from: Spectre [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
Comparing this disappointing film to the first few Bond films of the early 1960s is like comparing today’s society as a whole to that of those times.

Society then, although of course it had a lot wrong with it, was seeing the “you’ve never had it so good” days of capitalism’s long post-war boom. Today, technology has developed in leaps and bounds, but most other things in society have got worse.

It seems to me that today’s Bond films reflect that change. “Spectre” has countless spectacular action sequences (which become boring), produced with the aid of all the high-tech special effects that are available to film-makers today. But there is no substance to the film. It is all form and no content.

For me, the only really great Bond films are the first three: Dr No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather watch one of those for the umpteenth time than sit through one of today’s Bond films.

Phil Webster.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2016 11:02 PM BST


Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories (Inspector Montalbano Series)
Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories (Inspector Montalbano Series)
by Andrea Camilleri
Edition: Paperback

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Montalbano Short Stories, 23 Feb. 2016
This is an excellent collection of Montalbano short stories by Andrea Camilleri. Most of the stories may already be familiar to fans, because they have been adapted to form episodes, or incorporated as parts of episodes, of the TV versions of Montalbano and The Young Montalbano. But they are nevertheless well worth reading. The collection also includes the novella-length “Montalbano’s First Case”.

There has been an enjoyable formula for the Montalbano books: Montalbano’s quirky personality; the interplay between him and his team; lots of humour; and the occasional critical social comment from Camilleri’s left-leaning perspective. (In the TV version we also get the beautiful Sicilian scenery.)

With short stories, there is not the same space for Camilleri to get us inside the mind of Montalbano to the extent that he does in the full length novels, but we still get lots of the best elements of Camilleri’s detective stories.

When I first discovered Montalbano, I felt as though I’d stumbled across a gold mine. I’m hard to please when it comes to fictional detectives, but for me most of the Montalbano books are up there alongside such greats as Raymond Chandler’s first four novels and Dashiell Hammett’s “The Dain Curse”. And most of the episodes of both of the TV Montalbanos are of a similar high quality to the TV version of “Inspector Morse” and Jeremy Brett’s first few TV series as Sherlock Holmes.

Unfortunately, some of Camilleri’s recent offerings have disappointed me. The mood of “The Age of Doubt” was dismal; “The Treasure Hunt” was spoiled by a distastefully grim scene; “Angelica’s Smile” was disappointingly “average”; and a couple of the books irritated me when Camilleri brought in premonition-type paranormal episodes.

However, I’m glad to say that most of these short stories were written at the time of the earlier full-length Montalbanos, when, in my opinion, Camilleri was at his best.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from the collection, but “Catarella Solves a Case” is one of the best. Also, look out for one story that leads you up the garden path - all the usual characters are behaving very strangely - and then has a surreal, but very amusing, ending. Unfortunately, the author himself gives away the ending to this one in his introduction to the collection. (In fact, I would recommend reading "Montalbano Says No" before reading the introduction.)

Finally, for anyone studying Italian, most of these short stories are included in either “Un mese con Montalbano” or “Gli arancini di Montalbano”, which are both available on Kindle as well as in paperback. These books are challenging because they contain a lot of Sicilian dialect, but it is well worth the effort, and you can usually guess the meaning of the Sicilian words from the context, or sometimes from their similarity to the Italian. And now that we have Stephen Sartarelli’s translation, we can even look at the Italian and English side-by-side, and see how Officer Catarella mangles his words in both versions!

Phil Webster.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 14, 2016 11:55 AM GMT


The Meek & the Militant: Religion and Power Across the World (Paperback) - Common
The Meek & the Militant: Religion and Power Across the World (Paperback) - Common
by By (author) Paul N. Siegel
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars “The heart of a heartless world… the opium of the people”, 19 Feb. 2016
The picture painted by the capitalist media and education system of the relationship between Marxism and religion generally goes something like this:

(1) Marxists are atheists.
(2) Religion was/is suppressed under “Marxist” regimes such as the USSR, China etc.
(3) Marxists see religion as a tool used by the ruling class to brainwash the masses into accepting their exploitation.
(4) Marx described religion as “the opium of the people”.

In this excellent book, Paul Siegel sets the record straight on these matters.

The first of the above propositions is generally true. Marxists do indeed look for materialist explanations of natural and social phenomena. But on the second point, genuine Marxists, including Marx, Engels and Lenin, did not and do not seek to ban religion. The suppression of religion in Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc was carried out by Stalinist regimes which called themselves Marxist, but were/are actually bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which had nothing to do with genuine Marxism.

Marxists aim to achieve a democratic workers’ state, leading ultimately to a classless society. Siegel shows that Marxists argue for the separation of church and state, and for people to be free to follow whatever religion they choose. But Marxists also believe that in a classless society religion will wither away, because people will not feel the need for it any more. (I always think of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in relation to this.)

On the third point, it is certainly true that religion has often been a useful ideological tool for ruling classes, as is the case, for example, with the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings”. Obey the King or you’ll go to hell! And the great American rebel Joe Hill pointed out that religion conned people into believing that you’ll get “pie in the sky when you die”.

But Siegel also shows that Marxists understand that on some occasions religion can inspire the oppressed to rebel. In the English Civil War King Charles believed that he ruled by divine right, but on the other side the revolutionary parliamentarians were also inspired by their different version of Christianity. And it is obvious that the Christianity of Martin Luther King was a very different thing from the “Christianity” of Donald Trump. In fact, Marxists often work alongside progressive religious people in campaigns against racism, Islamophobia etc.

In relation to the fourth point above, the quotation actually goes like this:

“Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Here, Marx is saying that it is not just a case of the oppressed being brainwashed by the ruling class. It is also the case that people understandably turn to religion as a comfort. This reinforces the Marxist argument that religion cannot and should not be banned. The solution is to create a just society in which people will no longer feel the need for a false comfort.

From Enlightenment philosophers to present-day atheists of the Richard Dawkins type, many anti-religious people have spent their time directly attacking religion for being unscientific, irrational and reactionary. Marxists agree with many of these criticisms of religion. But they do not waste much time directly attacking religion. Instead they fight to achieve a better society and thus remove the root cause of people’s need for religion. (The other function of religion - as an “explanation” of things that humans do not understand - is already in retreat as scientific knowledge advances.)

Siegel also shows that:
(a) Morality is a social product. That which is called morally “good” is actually what is good for society, or, in a class society, what is good for a particular social class.
(b) Religious belief is a form of alienation, which means that people are dominated by their own creations. As Marx wrote in “Capital”, “As, in religion, man is governed by the products of his own brain, so in capitalist production, he is governed by the products of his own hand.”

Finally, as well as discussing all these general points with great clarity, Siegel also gives us a run through the social history of the world’s major religions, using the Marxist method of analysis.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

Phil Webster.


[(The Meek & the Militant: Religion and Power Across the World)] [Author: Paul N. Siegel] published on (September, 2013)
[(The Meek & the Militant: Religion and Power Across the World)] [Author: Paul N. Siegel] published on (September, 2013)
by Paul N. Siegel
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars “The heart of a heartless world… the opium of the people”, 19 Feb. 2016
The picture painted by the capitalist media and education system of the relationship between Marxism and religion generally goes something like this:

(1) Marxists are atheists.
(2) Religion was/is suppressed under “Marxist” regimes such as the USSR, China etc.
(3) Marxists see religion as a tool used by the ruling class to brainwash the masses into accepting their exploitation.
(4) Marx described religion as “the opium of the people”.

In this excellent book, Paul Siegel sets the record straight on these matters.

The first of the above propositions is generally true. Marxists do indeed look for materialist explanations of natural and social phenomena. But on the second point, genuine Marxists, including Marx, Engels and Lenin, did not and do not seek to ban religion. The suppression of religion in Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc was carried out by Stalinist regimes which called themselves Marxist, but were/are actually bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which had nothing to do with genuine Marxism.

Marxists aim to achieve a democratic workers’ state, leading ultimately to a classless society. Siegel shows that Marxists argue for the separation of church and state, and for people to be free to follow whatever religion they choose. But Marxists also believe that in a classless society religion will wither away, because people will not feel the need for it any more. (I always think of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in relation to this.)

On the third point, it is certainly true that religion has often been a useful ideological tool for ruling classes, as is the case, for example, with the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings”. Obey the King or you’ll go to hell! And the great American rebel Joe Hill pointed out that religion conned people into believing that you’ll get “pie in the sky when you die”.

But Siegel also shows that Marxists understand that on some occasions religion can inspire the oppressed to rebel. In the English Civil War King Charles believed that he ruled by divine right, but on the other side the revolutionary parliamentarians were also inspired by their different version of Christianity. And it is obvious that the Christianity of Martin Luther King was a very different thing from the “Christianity” of Donald Trump. In fact, Marxists often work alongside progressive religious people in campaigns against racism, Islamophobia etc.

In relation to the fourth point above, the quotation actually goes like this:

“Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Here, Marx is saying that it is not just a case of the oppressed being brainwashed by the ruling class. It is also the case that people understandably turn to religion as a comfort. This reinforces the Marxist argument that religion cannot and should not be banned. The solution is to create a just society in which people will no longer feel the need for a false comfort.

From Enlightenment philosophers to present-day atheists of the Richard Dawkins type, many anti-religious people have spent their time directly attacking religion for being unscientific, irrational and reactionary. Marxists agree with many of these criticisms of religion. But they do not waste much time directly attacking religion. Instead they fight to achieve a better society and thus remove the root cause of people’s need for religion. (The other function of religion - as an “explanation” of things that humans do not understand - is already in retreat as scientific knowledge advances.)

Siegel also shows that:
(a) Morality is a social product. That which is called morally “good” is actually what is good for society, or, in a class society, what is good for a particular social class.
(b) Religious belief is a form of alienation, which means that people are dominated by their own creations. As Marx wrote in “Capital”, “As, in religion, man is governed by the products of his own brain, so in capitalist production, he is governed by the products of his own hand.”

Finally, as well as discussing all these general points with great clarity, Siegel also gives us a run through the social history of the world’s major religions, using the Marxist method of analysis.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

Phil Webster.


Meek & the Militant, The : Religion and Power Across the World
Meek & the Militant, The : Religion and Power Across the World
by Paul N. Siegel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars “The heart of a heartless world… the opium of the people”, 19 Feb. 2016
The picture painted by the capitalist media and education system of the relationship between Marxism and religion generally goes something like this:

(1) Marxists are atheists.
(2) Religion was/is suppressed under “Marxist” regimes such as the USSR, China etc.
(3) Marxists see religion as a tool used by the ruling class to brainwash the masses into accepting their exploitation.
(4) Marx described religion as “the opium of the people”.

In this excellent book, Paul Siegel sets the record straight on these matters.

The first of the above propositions is generally true. Marxists do indeed look for materialist explanations of natural and social phenomena. But on the second point, genuine Marxists, including Marx, Engels and Lenin, did not and do not seek to ban religion. The suppression of religion in Russia, Eastern Europe, China etc was carried out by Stalinist regimes which called themselves Marxist, but were/are actually bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which had nothing to do with genuine Marxism.

Marxists aim to achieve a democratic workers’ state, leading ultimately to a classless society. Siegel shows that Marxists argue for the separation of church and state, and for people to be free to follow whatever religion they choose. But Marxists also believe that in a classless society religion will wither away, because people will not feel the need for it any more. (I always think of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in relation to this.)

On the third point, it is certainly true that religion has often been a useful ideological tool for ruling classes, as is the case, for example, with the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings”. Obey the King or you’ll go to hell! And the great American rebel Joe Hill pointed out that religion conned people into believing that you’ll get “pie in the sky when you die”.

But Siegel also shows that Marxists understand that on some occasions religion can inspire the oppressed to rebel. In the English Civil War King Charles believed that he ruled by divine right, but on the other side the revolutionary parliamentarians were also inspired by their different version of Christianity. And it is obvious that the Christianity of Martin Luther King was a very different thing from the “Christianity” of Donald Trump. In fact, Marxists often work alongside progressive religious people in campaigns against racism, Islamophobia etc.

In relation to the fourth point above, the quotation actually goes like this:

“Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Here, Marx is saying that it is not just a case of the oppressed being brainwashed by the ruling class. It is also the case that people understandably turn to religion as a comfort. This reinforces the Marxist argument that religion cannot and should not be banned. The solution is to create a just society in which people will no longer feel the need for a false comfort.

From Enlightenment philosophers to present-day atheists of the Richard Dawkins type, many anti-religious people have spent their time directly attacking religion for being unscientific, irrational and reactionary. Marxists agree with many of these criticisms of religion. But they do not waste much time directly attacking religion. Instead they fight to achieve a better society and thus remove the root cause of people’s need for religion. (The other function of religion - as an “explanation” of things that humans do not understand - is already in retreat as scientific knowledge advances.)

Siegel also shows that:
(a) Morality is a social product. That which is called morally “good” is actually what is good for society, or, in a class society, what is good for a particular social class.
(b) Religious belief is a form of alienation, which means that people are dominated by their own creations. As Marx wrote in “Capital”, “As, in religion, man is governed by the products of his own brain, so in capitalist production, he is governed by the products of his own hand.”

Finally, as well as discussing all these general points with great clarity, Siegel also gives us a run through the social history of the world’s major religions, using the Marxist method of analysis.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

Phil Webster.


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