Marx's phrase “religion is the opium of the masses” explains that religion fills the soulless void found in class society. Religion cannot be overcome by recourse to pure, rational arguments. We must instead attack its social foundation.

Marx's phrase “religion is the opium of the masses” explains that religion fills the soulless void found in class society. Religion cannot be overcome by recourse to pure, rational arguments. We must instead attack its social foundation.


Marx explained that “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.” The second half of this statement is the most quoted, but together they show Marx’s all-sided understanding. Marx says the reason why many people hold religious ideas is due to the oppression and exploitation they are subjected to. Lacking any material explanation for this, many look to mystical ideas as a form of comfort. However, this also means religious ideas can play a useful ideological role for the ruling class. Workers can be told not to worry about their position in society today. Instead, if they just ‘turn the other cheek’, they will be rewarded in the afterlife.

While religion can play a reactionary role, Marxists do not claim it can be defeated purely through argumentation. To rid society of religion, the material conditions for religion must be removed. Therefore, only when we have a democratically and rationally planned economy, based on the needs of us all, rather than the profit of a few, will we begin to see the withering away of religious ideas. So, Marxists are in favour of religious freedom, but argue people will decide for themselves to abandon religion in a socialist society.

Marxists do not prevent religious workers joining the fight for socialism, but they do not have a neutral position on religion within the revolutionary organisation. As Lenin said, “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.” A Marxist organisation would be rudderless without the guide of the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism. Religious workers wanting to join a Marxist organisation must therefore be convinced by the ideas of materialist dialectics, which are the best guide and tool for understanding and thus changing society. 

Introductory articles

Marxism and Religion - Alan Woods

Philosophy and Religion - Alan Woods

Religious fundamentalism - why it is growing and what is the alternative? - Fred Weston

Religion and Secularism - John Pickard

A Case of Saintly Overproduction

Islamic Fundamentalism: Causes and Prospects - Lal Khan

The Menance of Islamic Fundamentalism and Imperialist Hypocrisy - Lal Khan


Socialism, Marxists, and Religion

Socialism and Religion - Lenin

Socialism and the Churches - Rosa Luxemburg

The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion - Lenin

Their Morals and Ours - Leon Trotsky



The Origins of the Jews - Yossi Schwartz (And Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

On the History of Early Christianity - Frederick Engels 

Foundations of Christianity - Kautsky

On Kautsky's Foundations of Christianity - Alan Woods

Foundations of Christianity - John Pickard


Audio and video

Marxism and Religion - Alan Woods

Socialist Appeal are proud to publish this education guide to help focus your studies of Marxist theory and practice. Visit the various tabs below to find links to introductory articles, classic texts, videos and audio talks for different topics. Read More
We present here Marxism 101: a series of responses and short video talks answering the most common myths and questions about Marxism, socialism, and revolution. Read More
Check out this selection of writings for an excellent introduction to many of the fundamentals of Marxist theory, providing a strong basis for those wishing to equip themselves with the ideas necessary in order to fight for socialism. Read More
Dialectical materialism is the philosophy or methodology of Marxism. We must seek to understand the laws of society and nature in order to change them. Read More
Historical materialism is the general theory of how and why society develops in the way it does. Each social system has its inherent laws of motion. If we want to overthrow capitalist society, we must understand how capitalism works. Read More
Marxist economics is the study of the laws of motion of capitalist society, allowing us to understand why capitalism perpetually goes into crisis, where inequality comes from, and what the alternative is. Read More
The Russian Revolution is the greatest event in world history for Marxists. Studying the events of 1917, and understanding why the Revolution degenerated into Stalinism, provides vital lessons for revolutionaries today. Read More
For Marxists, the state is not at all neutral. We must understand the state’s real basis and strip away its mysticism by treating it historically - taking in its origins, rise, and eventual fall. Read More
Anarchism is naturally attractive for those wanting to abolish capitalism. But only Marxist ideas can explain why bureaucracy and oppression exist - and how to overthrow the exploitative capitalist system. Read More
Marxists are irreconcilably opposed to the oppression of women and fight determinedly for liberation and against discrimination. We believe this will be achieved through the class struggle - to abolish the oppressive capitalist system. Read More
The madness of fascism expresses the historic crisis and dead-end of capitalism. But it could have been avoided if the working class had a united revolutionary leadership, prepared to take power. Read More
Nations have not always existed, nor will they always exist in the future. Marxists are internationalists, fighting for world socialist revolution as the only way forward for humanity and our planet. Read More
Wars represent the sharp extreme of capitalism’s impasse. Imperialism, Lenin said, was the "highest stage of capitalism". As long as the profit system exists, there will be wars over markets and spheres of influence. Read More
All written history, Marx stated, is the history of class struggle. Our task is to learn the lessons from history in order to prepare for the revolutionary events taking place today and in the future. Read More
Our aim is to spread the ideas of Marxism, in an organised fashion, amongst workers and youth. In order to do this, we must study the history and traditions of the working class. Read More
  • Educate Yourself
  • Marxism 101
  • Fundamentals of Marxism
  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Historical Materialism
  • Marxist Economics
  • Stalinism and the Soviet Union
  • The State
  • Anarchism
  • Identity and Oppression
  • Fascism
  • The National Question
  • Imperialism and War
  • Revolutionary History
  • Revolutionary Strategy