Traditionally, the revolutionary attitude to religion has been exemplified by Lenin, who agreed with Marx and Engels that revolutionaries might be religious, but that there should be complete separation of religion and the state.
Although Fidel Castro would agree with Lenin on separation of church and state, he is much more sympathetic to religion. As he explains in a 1998 speech: "I feel a great respect for all religions. The Christian religion was the one I best knew, for I spent 12 years - as some of you probably did too - as a boarding student in religious Catholic schools ... those schools were more like a convent than a school, because that was the type of life we led, for which I'm even glad today, because it taught me discipline, stoicism, spirit of sacrifice, many positive things that later helped me throughout my life."
Fidel emphasizes that revolutionaries need basic humanist values, and that sometimes people can get these values from their religion: "In our culture, as part of the so-called western world, there are undoubtedly components of Christian values. I think that among those values there are ethical and humane principles that are applicable to any epoch."
"If instead of being born and elaborating his ideas when he did, Christ had been born in these times, you can be sure - or at least I am - that his preaching would not have differed much from the ideas or the preaching that we revolutionaries of today try to bring the world."
Fidel calls for a new consciousness, a new awareness, "built by adding together more than just one revolutionary thought and the best ethical and humane ideas of more than one religion, of all authentic religions ... the sum total of the preaching of many political thinkers, of many schools and of many religions."
Fidel points out that he does not consider sects as true religions: "I am not thinking of sects, which of course exist, created for political ends and for the purpose of creating confusion and division by those who do not hesitate to even use religion for definite political objectives..."
He sees the teachings of Christ in the same spirit as those of Marx, Engels and Lenin: "We have even spoken here of some of the eminent theoreticians of this century who have played a role and whose ideas may have certain validity; but we must bring together the ethical and humane sense of many ideas, some of which emerged in very remote times of man's history: Christ's ideas with the scientifically founded socialist ideas, so just and profoundly humane, of Karl Marx, the ideas of Engels (Applause.), the ideas of Lenin, the ideas of Martí, the ideas of the European Encyclopedists who preceded the French Revolution and those of the forefathers of the independence of this hemisphere, whose most outstanding symbol was Simón Bolivar, who was capable, two centuries ago, to even dream of a united Latin America..."
Fidel's dialogue with religion is the result of practical experience in Latin America where a major movement in religion, Liberation Theology, has supported a revolutionary change from capitalism to socialism. More information on this is contained in the book Fidel and Religion (not available on the Internet) which was written in 1987 as a dialogue between Fidel and a Brazilian disciple of liberation theology, Frei Betto.
Both dialogue and contradictions of religion and revolution continue as we enter the 21st Century. On the one hand, Fidel's respect for religion is echoed by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi whose messages of nonviolence open a new way to revolutionary change. On the other hand, the capitalist culture of war is more and more cloaked in the robes of fundamentalist Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious crusades.
To take part in a discussion about this page, go to the Discussion Board Forum on the writings of Fidel Castro:
It seemed equally clear to Lenin why the capitalists turned to religion: [They] "are taught by religion to practise charity while on earth, thus offering them a very cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters and selling them at a moderate price tickets to well-being in heaven."
Like Engels and Marx, Lenin believed that religion was an historical phenomenon, tied to the oppressive structures of human history such as feudalism and capitalism. Just as they believed that the state, as we know it today, would no longer be needed and would "wither away" after the world had turned completely to socialism, so too they believed that religion would wither away when there was no longer a need for it. In Lenin's words, "the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society."
Lenin cites Marx and Engels that due to the fact that religion has deep roots in capitalist oppression, it will not disappear until the people completely overcome their oppression: He writes in The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion that "No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy or the blind destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organised, planned and conscious way."
Marx, Engels and Lenin all agreed that there should be complete separation of church and state and that the state should never make laws about religious belief, either to support one religion or to ban another. All three were opposed to arguments that religion should be banned under socialism. Lenin agreed with Engels when he wrote in The Attitude of the Workers' Party to Religion: "Engels frequently condemned the efforts of people who desired to be "more left" or "more revolutionary" than the Social-Democrats to introduce into the programme of the workers' party an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion. Commenting in 1874 on the famous manifesto of the Blanquist fugitive Communards who were living in exile in London, Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out."
While some socialists wanted to exclude workers who were religious from the revolutionary party, Lenin believed they should be welcomed without prejudice: "We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offense to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it." In fact, Lenin was not even opposed to recruiting priests into the revolutionary party. For example, he defended the revolutionary priest Father Gapon against those who claimed he was an agent.
A more sympathetic view of religion and revolution is expressed by Fidel Castro. Fidel's respect for religion is echoed by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi
whose messages of nonviolence open a new way to revolutionary change. Although the dialogue of religion and revolution continues as we enter the 21st Century, the contradictions seem to be increasing at the same time since the capitalist culture of war is more and more cloaked in the robes of fundamentalist Christian, Jewish and Muslim