The United States prides itself on being the epitome of a successful free market society, with its democratic ideals working in perfect conjunction with its capitalist economy. Additionally, it also bases much of its existence on the freedom of religion, though government leaders still take many measures to ensure that their particular religious beliefs take precedence over secularism. However, like few other countries on the planet, the U.S. could succeed as a communist nation if it were to adopt a few of Karl Marx’s simple precepts and abandon some of its current practices.
With its increasingly secular population and views, as well as its democratic ideals that lend themselves well to the collectivization encouraged by communism, the United States could completely remove God from consideration in the country’s legislation and create a strong social welfare system that protects workers and the poor far better than current standards allow.
While religion is firmly protected in the Constitution, the freedom from religion is just as important, though often ignored. Politicians often rely on their religious beliefs and voting populace to propose religiously-oriented legislation, most of the time despite the widespread secular ideals of most Americans. A current example of this is stem cell research, which is firmly opposed by President Bush and many religious factions and politicians who foist their views of morality on the rest of the country that believes stem cell research is in the best interests of human progress.
While morality has its place in society, reason can lead to just laws that most can agree upon, and religious sentiment should not be involved in legislation or its opposition whatsoever. For Marx, religion is a type of illusion, used to control the populace, as well as to retain the power structure of those at the highest levels of society. In America, this can be seen in the powerful sway that religious factions have on politicians, even in spite of an increasing secularization.
Marx was a fervent supporter of social criticism, and he believed that the criticism of religion was foundation of all social criticism. In his view, he found it to be a type of illusion. Marx believed that man makes religion, not vice-versa, and in creating God in his own image, man had “alienated himself from himself” (Marx, 1978/1848, p. 53). This means that man has created a greater being in contrast to himself, reducing himself to a despicable creature that needs both the dogma of the church and the laws of government to guide and control him.
Marx described religion as the, “sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions,” adding that religion was “the opium of the people” (1978/1848, p. 54). In the United States, religion is afforded all kinds of special protections, including tax breaks that surely cost the country billions of dollars a year. Religious institutions receive donations from their constituents and are not required to pay anything to the federal government.
In a Marxist America, provided that religion is still protected by law, the first step would be to tax religious organizations as any other company. Perhaps once religions are taxed the same as any other organization that makes money and owns property, the next natural step will be that they no longer have the power sustain themselves and people will be free to pursue a life free of religion, and therefore free of illusion.
To Marx, religion prohibits man from realizing himself as the center of his existence, an in place, creates an environment in which religious belief dictates his action. Men can never be free, as long as they accept their existence as subservient beings, indebted to an omnipotent Supreme Being or organization dedicated to perpetuating belief in such a thing. Marx believed that if religion were abolished human beings would overcome their self-inflicted alienation. The abandonment of this illusion, in Marx’s view, could be one of many crucial steps mankind towards advancement.
After religious sentiment and the power the religious factions hold over the populace has been displaced, America will be more receptive to other aspects of Marx’s communist philosophy. While it may be a difficult task to ask those with great wealth and influence to sacrifice either, including corporations that virtually run the country, but it is necessary to create the kind of equality promised by democracy, and guaranteed by communism and withheld by the inequality of capitalism. Marx claimed that in a capitalist society the struggle between the working class, or proletariat, and the ruling business class, or bourgeoisie, would eventually end in the formation of a new society, a classless society: “Society can no longer live under this bourgoeisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society” (1978/1848, p. 483).
Corporations and individuals with immense wealth would be required to sacrifice a significant portion of their wealth to contribute to the overall health of the proletariat. Even if someone like Bill Gates was required to hand over ninety percent of his wealth, he would still have hundreds of millions of dollars left. When one considers that a salary of fifty thousand dollars a year is considered not only adequate to live in the United States, but decent, it signifies that the disparity in wealth created by unchecked capitalism. The situation created by the immense disparity of wealth also contributes to what Marx sees as an increased alienation between the people of the nation, and in the U.S., this situation has become apparent in recent years as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
This contributes to the classes become hostile towards each other in Marx’s estimation: “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (1978/1848, p. 483). Though class struggle in America has largely been relegated to race struggle, which is almost the same considering that most racial riots center around impoverished people looting, the potential exists for further complications if the wealthy in America are not willing to compromise and share the wealth. Alienation even exists in America between men and women, where women are notorious for making significantly less money than men. In a communist society, women would no longer be relegated to quasi-second class status.
A communist America would not only provide more opportunities for workers, but would also help relations between different races and genders. Amongst the many little-known facts about the philosophies of Karl Marx, was his support for women’s liberation in a time when they did not share the privileges of men. He believed that this would encourage greater equality within societies, therefore making life better for the society as a whole. More than a century ago, many years before women were allowed to vote in the United States, Marx wrote of his views towards women’s rights.
In the modern bourgeoisie society, Marx explained in so many words, that women in a capitalist system were nothing more to men than another instrument of production. Men, who controlled the world as wells as it’s productive forces, also controlled women. Because the instruments of production are to be exploited, women are exploited. With the abolition of the bourgeoisie society, women would be free from every form of prostitution, public or private. For the Communists, there was, “no need to introduce community of women; it has always existed almost from time immemorial” (1978/1848, p. 488).
But traditional capitalistic values make this fact all but impossible to notice, and in the United States, the quiet discrimination against women, largely inspired by the centuries of dogmatic religious misogyny, would be eliminated, and along with it, the alienation felt between people. Otherwise, further alienation between people will take place.
Marx applied this idea of alienation to private property, which he said causes humans to work only for themselves, not for the good of their species. Because capitalism has its roots in private ownership, he felt that it created an environment, ripe for greed and avarice to develop: “The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property” (1978/1848, p. 483). The control imposed upon the proletariat by the bourgeoisie in the United States reflects many of Marx’s fears, as people fall under the sway of Walmart, utility monopolies, and media confusion. This state prevents man from focusing on cooperating, and maximizing their potential, whereas a Marxist society would be one that would provide for all.
A communist United States is a highly unlike, but possible if certain segments of the population are willing to listen to reason and make certain sacrifices. Religion is a key in building the foundation for a communist society, as the religious organizations that enjoy tax protection must be treated equal to other companies. Corporations and individuals must be willing to make sacrifices concerning individual income and pay a significant amount of taxes to help those less fortunate.
After all, it makes little sense to keep one’s neighbors hungry. And, though communism has been considered revolutionary for over a hundred years, a communist revolution in America can begin only with the conscientious objections of the working class. Anyone with ample reason would be able to see the benefits of helping their fellow man, and the benefits of pooling the nation’s collective talents towards a common goal. In the end, it relies on those that are currently oppressed to make their voice be heard and heed the clarion call of Karl Marx: “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” (1978/1848, p. 500).
Marx, K. (1978/1848). Communist Manifesto. The Marx-Engels Reader. Trans. Tucker, R.
C., Second Edition. New York: W. W. Norton.