History and fantastic reality

In an excerpt from the introduction of forthcoming book Religion - communist approaches and analysis, Jack Conrad argues that those who would change the world must get to grips with the role of contemporary religion and how it comes down to us

Why write another Marxist book about religion? Amazingly, though our world still groans beneath religion's iron age - a born-again George W Bush, holy Tony Blair, the Christian Democratic bloc that dominates Europe's parliament, Russia's reinstalled orthodox church, India's saffron communalism, the global Calvary of John Paul II, the toxic evangelicalism sweeping Africa, Latin America and southern Asia, the house of Saud's pitiless wahhabism, al Qa'eda's sensationalist terrorism, the Iranian theocracy - many, far too many, leftwing activists pride themselves in giving a 'don't bother' answer. Paraphrasing a certain 20th century American capitalist, they dismissively say, religion is bunk. The fact that modern society is saturated with religion - despite leftwing philistinism - in part explains why we embarked on this book. But there is another, far more important, reason. Those who are serious about changing the world must first of all see it for what it is, and that means trying to understand how it came into being. To give up on the past encourages blinkered complacency and invites disaster. Or, as George Orwell put it, who controls the past controls the future. True, class struggles have succeeded in spite of the fact that the social actors had only the haziest idea of the society in which they lived - heralded by Descartes, Rousseau and Voltaire, the French revolution of 1789 was the "first occasion in history when men deliberately and consciously formed themselves into a nation, and then consciously and deliberately set out to mould other men into it"(EH Carr What is history? Harmondsworth 1975, p135). Past societies were, though, typically simple, life was localised, technical change was negligible and class relations were often transparent - at least when compared with our complex hybrids and ectopic social formations which mark out the global transition from capitalism to communism. A Marxist - ie, a scientific or rational - understanding of society and the historical process nowadays is no luxury. It is an absolute necessity. With the ever growing gulf separating the pursuit of profit and human need; with ecological destruction and the obscene waste of advertising, banking and arms spending; with the chaos caused by the failed transition to capitalism in Russia; with a declining and increasingly bellicose US superimperialism; with the anarchy and failed states in the so-called third world, it is clear that a complete transformation of all existing social conditions is required. It might take 10 years, it might take a thousand. But alone the working class - which is rooted in, constantly augmented by and uniquely opposed to capitalism - presents the only viable social force capable of carrying through such a momentous task. Anything else is either silly or dangerous nonsense. Partisans of the working class are surely obliged therefore to reject the narrow-mindedness, the primitivism, which considers routine trade unionism and auto-Labourism the epitome of politics (to use an analogy, a Ptolemaic view of the class struggle). Something far more dynamic and profound is urgently needed - programmatically a Copernican revolution. It is necessary that the working class masters high politics - only possible through fathoming the past. We can only but regard with contempt the superficialities of spin, the obsession with short-term advantage and the daft notion that a week is a long time in politics. While not for one moment ignoring the necessity of the quickest tactical turns and shifts, our class must learn to think in decades, centuries and epochs. The widest vistas, the furthermost horizons must be intellectually explored. Either that or we effectively join those who would reconcile the working class with the soulless routine of 9-5 wage-slavery, DIY homemaking and the escapism of Friday night-Sunday morning hedonism. Grasping how various past societies have undergone their birth, entered maturity, experienced decline and eventually how they perish and pass into nothingness (particularly through the prism of those social movements, modes of thought, institutions and traditions which encompass immense spans of time and come down to us today - albeit with their origins thoroughly obscured) enables the advanced section of the working class to gain a sense of history, through which alone all defeats and partial victories can be properly contextualised. In other words, to provide the modern working class with an assured self-confidence, answers to all burning questions and an overall sense of direction nothing can be better than studying past processes. History is, after all, the natural environment of humanity as a self-making species. Hence for Marxists the study of the past is a means towards equipping our class in the here and now with a strategic understanding in order to make it capable of ruling society in the future. This, we argue, applies no less to the history of religion. Define At this point, before proceeding further, we must necessarily define what is meant by religion - easier said than done. Apart from implying some kind of belief in the supernatural, dictionary, academic and theological definitions of religion are many and various and often very confused. That is bound to be the case with anything so highly complex. Religious ideas and practices vary to a tremendous degree from country to country and often crazily overlap and interweave within countries and even within the individual themselves - a baptised church-going christian in Nigeria might well also perform rituals to placate witches, ancestors and evil spirits. Needless to say, we reject as false and artificial the distinction between religion and magic. Opposition to magic is historically opposition to other, or unofficial, religions. Marxism has a great advantage. As a totalising, but open-ended, world view, it consistently strives to grasp the human origins of the supernatural and in turn uses ideas of the supernatural to grasp the human. Religion, as defined by Marxism, is fantastic reality. Fantastic, because the claims religion makes about existence do not correspond to reality; real, because these claims are "causally linked with material reality, and are not only determined but also determine, in their turn exerting a causal influence on their matrix" (C Cauldwell Further studies in a dying culture London 1949, p18). The ideas people have in their heads - no matter how fanciful, no matter how metaphysical and seemingly unrelated to the world of experience and practice - have a material effect on their surroundings. After all, everything which moves people into action must go through their minds and therefore what is in people's minds must react back on and interpenetrate with material conditions. Grasping this unity of opposites, Marxism is able to analyse the significance of religion with unsurpassed insight. Aristotle remarked at the beginning of his The politics that: "We shall, I think, in this as in other subjects, get the best view of the matter if we look at the natural growth of things from the beginning" (Aristotle The politics London 1992, p56). With the same objective, of getting the best view of the matter, we shall provide a brief sketch of religious evolution. Necessarily, this must be the evolution of religion as a social phenomenon. We cannot countenance the approach which abstracts religion from society and which treats the evolution of religion, typically from animism to monotheism (but sometimes to atheism), as if dealing with the passage from infancy to adulthood. This is religion as a logically unfolding idea. Religion torn out of context. But religion is part of the evolution of society and cannot be separated from society. Equally misplaced are attempts by evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists to locate religious belief in our genes. Psychologically human beings have been the product of essentially the same genetic tool kit since homo erectus first emerged 2.5 million years ago. Doubtless the ability to acquire and transmit religious ideas results from many millions of years of genetic evolution and lies lodged in the brain - probably in the cortex - which makes "us humans hard-wired for mischief, creativity and associative symbolic thought" (S Oppenheimer Out of Eden: the peopling of the world London 2003, p23). The first appearance of "religious ideologies" happened, it is said, between 100,000 and 30,000 years ago (S Mithen The prehistory of the mind: a search for the origins of art, religion and science London 2005, p198). Genetically, however, human beings have changed only to a minor degree over the last 100,000 or 30,000 years and yet since then religion has changed, and to a tremendous extent, and has done so again and again. Clearly we must locate social factors. The religion of primitive communism is the consciousness of a humanity which has not yet found itself. The earliest humans were to all intents and purposes tethered to particular microenvironments, of which they had only the vaguest comprehension. In the middle/upper Palaeolithic, however, there was a social revolution which produced early modern humans, along with art, complex hunting strategies ... and religion. Religion was essentially a magico-symbolic system for the relevant, but unavoidably distorted, understanding of, and interaction with, nature, and regulating the pattern of human life - ie, the cycle of birth, marriage and death - and framing and promoting the necessity of social exchange and trust building. Religion was a practical matter. It seems possible to control, or influence, real things through collective religious activity. Humanity attempts to find itself by projecting itself onto outer-reality: anthropomorphism and totemism. Nature is imagined as full of spirits, as emotional, capricious and open to human intervention. Rain, the seasons, the return of migrating herds of wild animals, female fertility are therefore assured through performing certain fixed rituals. By slotting these rituals into the dimly observed pattern of nature, the wish duly becomes part of a chain which leads to fulfilment. Eg, do your rain dance just prior to the rainy season, and pray for the sun to rise before daybreak, not following sunset. By projecting itself as the cause, humanity feels its way into nature and comes to know the environment. Religion and religious practices draw ever closer together with nature. Eventually this gives rise to calendars, astronomy and mathematical calculation. Under primitive communism the authority of religion is still the authority of the community. The individual personality is, in terms of potential, stunted and underdeveloped. What matters is the cohesion of the whole, the clan or the tribe, not the full development of the single part. The individual conforms to the customs, mores and beliefs of the collective. Survival meant that they had no choice in the matter. Things changed with the decomposition of primitive communism and the separation of mental from manual labour. Class Religion becomes the consciousness of a humanity which has lost itself. The emergence of the first class societies - eg, the temple city, the warrior kingdom which raids neighbours and enslaves war captives, the tributary state - went hand in hand with internal oppression, exploitation and a reactionary system of religion. Religion is no longer indistinguishable from the community: there arises a professional caste of priests, whose prime function is to sanctify and thereby help reproduce social stratification and social privilege. These priests were responsible for the growth of real knowledge. Yet with the elevation of mental labour over manual labour there was also the pursuit and elaboration of entirely illusory ideas. Consciousness not only flattered itself, but became separated from the experiences and relationships from which it originally derived. Hence the search for mystical inner knowledge and conceiving something without experiencing something real. Though it may confound some so-called Marxists - those who take their cue from bourgeois anthropology rather than Marx's method - the crystallisation of class relations did not witness a rapid acceleration in the growth of the productive forces. On the contrary, as argued by the archaeologist Gordon V Childe in the 1930s, the appearance of a ruling class saw a marked "slowdown in the rates of technological progress" (RC Patterson Marx's ghost - conversations with archaeologists Oxford 2003, p49). It was primitive communism which was the truly creative epoch for humanity - mastering fire, brewing, the invention of the arts, sophisticated bone and flint weapons and tools, pottery, selective breeding of plants, domestication of animals for hunting, food and transport, irrigation, copper and bronze work, etc. Class societies erected gigantic stone buildings and monuments, produced bureaucratic writing and record keeping, and oversaw the long-distance trade in luxury goods, but they were riven with internal contradictions, and that meant fragility. Dramatic territorial expansion was often quickly followed by an equally dramatic collapse. The mass of the population was meanwhile reduced to endless toil and a condition of serfdom or slavery. Society no longer seems to protect; rather it appears as a blood-sucking monster. Confused, pulverised, desperate, the common people look for a saviour in an alternative power, which, in proportion to their weakness in this world, tends be superhuman and otherworldly. Ordinary human action cannot rescue them. Clearly the gods never made humanity. Rather humanity made the gods ... and made them in their own image. And as society comes to be cleaved into classes - oppressed and oppressor, slave and master, serf and lord - these antagonisms in all their complexity find their idealised expression in the heavens. In the carefully constructed collective imagination the uncontrollable forces of society itself are projected into the skies by those who either rule, or are ruled, in this world. Everything from social decay to the unequal relationship between men and women, chronic land shortages, the role of the state and the alienated human condition finds its inverted reflection. Throughout history the keenest minds - intellectuals from those classes which possessed sufficient time in which to think, write and debate - came to deride the eternal truths of established religion. Besides qualitatively expanding the fields of mathematics and geometry, developing formal and dialectical logic, categorising society and nature, and challenging accepted moral truths, the most advanced Greeks carried their philosophy to the point of atheism, or materialist conclusions that amounted to virtually the same thing. With the decline of slavery as a system, however, and the sealing of the historic compromise between the Roman emperor and catholic church, an asphyxiating intolerance became the norm. Questioning was forbidden. Heretical christian sects and independent thinkers alike were put to the flames. Intellectual life shrivelled and a forbidding scholasticism reigned. Truth was to be found in the bible, not life itself. The eclipse of feudalism and the growing importance of money relations, the print revolution, water-driven machine production, long-distance, sea-borne trade and oceanic navigation melted the frozen verities of the church's teachings. Scientific thinking began to reappear. The catholic church fought a desperate rearguard action. Anything threatening its dogmas was condemned as heresy. Galilei Galileo (1564-1642), was forced by the inquisition to renounce his agreement with Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), that the earth orbited the sun. It was supposedly only a 'theory' (shades of Darwinism in schools and colleges in US bible belt states today). The church outlawed all works supporting Copernicus and Galileo till the ban was reluctantly lifted ... in 1835! It was not only the catholic church. Martin Luther and John Calvin denounced Copernicus because the solar system contradicted the bible. Both catholic and protestant authorities sent thousands of heretics to be burnt at the stake. Where Copernicus and Galileo blazed the trail, the French philosophical materialists of the 18th century boldly followed. No religious authority was recognised and truth was to be found through life and reason, not the attempt to reconcile reason with faith. Inevitably their materialism was limited and one-sided. It could not be otherwise. French philosophical materialists were predominantly mechanical because, compared with physics, the development of the chemical, electromagnetic and organic sciences, and the discovery of other, higher, laws, were still to come. Theirs was the age of Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. They saw the universe as endlessly repetitive and circular and extended this paradigm into the realm of history and the human condition. Nevertheless, the French materialists savaged organised religion, especially christianity, with both freshness and audacity. Much fun was had in sardonically mocking the countless contradictions found in the bible. They also delighted in showing how the bible was full of holy excuses for murder, rape, robbery and oppression. God's instructions telling the Hebrews to perpetrate genocidal attacks on their enemies in Palestine - which pepper the Old testament - were fearlessly denounced. Such passages were on occasion cynically used at the time by Europe's autocrats to justify their wars and enslaving conquests. French materialists spoke out against the tyranny of the absolute monarchs - and their writings found practical followers in the form of Thomas Jefferson, Georges Jacques Danton and Tom Paine. While most of the French materialists were deists - believing in a creator, but not the christian doctrines of purgatory, prayers for the dead, the community of saints, etc - Paul Henry Holbach (1723-89) and Denis Diderot (1713-84) arrived at explicit atheism. Not surprisingly the Marx-Engels team saw the French philosophical materialists as being amongst their intellectual precursors. Despite the limitations of mechanical materialism both Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels were full of admiration. So too was Vladimir Lenin incidentally. Indeed the achievements of the French materialists - crucially in terms of their withering criticisms of organised religion - remain relevant today and will remain relevant while there is organised religion. Hence we cannot agree with the Italian 'official communist' leader, Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964), who in a feeble bid to court catholic votes, pronounced that the "old atheist propaganda is of no use" (quoted in J Klugmann [ed] Dialogue of christianity and Marxism London 1968, p108). The "old atheist propaganda" had become, one presumes, an inconvenient shibboleth. By contrast Marx and Engels recognised the revolutionary logic of French philosophical materialism. To struggle against religion is at least to indirectly struggle against the world of which religion is the "spiritual aroma" (K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 3, Moscow 1975, p175). If consistent, the struggle against religion must lead to humanity finding itself: ie, the practical liberation of humanity - not merely from superstition and ignorance, but from all social circumstances which imprison, demean, begrudge, warp, brutalise and crush. Chapters Fittingly, the attitude Marx and Engels held towards religion forms the subject matter of chapter one, and is written by Michael Malkin. Naturally the early writings of Marx himself receive particular attention. For instance, Marx's doctoral thesis The difference between the natural philosophy of Democritus and the natural philosophy of Epicurus, finished in March 1841, deftly highlights the superiority of the materialism propounded by the most advanced ancient Greek thinkers over religious-based speculations. In particular Marx championed the materialist and atheist Epicurus and the greater profundity of his atomism compared to that of Democritus. Marx's introduction contains the inspiring maxim - the "consciousness of humanity" is the "supreme divinity" (K Marx CW Vol 1, Moscow 1975, p30). The Marx-Engels team, it hardly needs saying, dealt with religion not in terms of theology and the search for transcendent meaning, but in terms of the gamut of history and the needs of political practice. Christianity Christianity, its origins and early evolution are covered by chapters two to six. We begin with the highly contested image of Jesus himself and the different ways he is glorified, degraded, dismissed, misunderstood and exploited. In chapter three we examine the slave mode of production, the rise and decline of Roman society and what led it to adopt christianity as its official religion. Then, in chapter four, the religious-political-economic evolution of ancient Jewish society is explained. Jesus, it should never be forgotten, was not only a Jew, but a meticulously devout Jewish-Jew. His meteoric career as a teacher and apocalyptic king-saviour comes next. Finally, in terms of christianity's origins, we trace the growth and success of the post-Jesus Jesus party and show how christianity emerged with Paul's split. He, not Jesus, was the founder of a new pro-Roman, collaborationist religion. Viewed from this angle, christianity marks a radical rupture with what went before. After the Pauline split christianity rapidly spread throughout the Roman empire to the point where it counted as a physical power, almost a state within a state, and therefore a potential theocratic rival to the emperor and his authority. In step, traditional religious toleration was abandoned. Starting with a deranged Nero and systematised by Diocletian, wave after wave of bloodthirsty persecution followed before emperor Constantine opted for assimilation and an historic compromise as the best policy. Our contention is that, while the role of Constantine and the adoption of a Hellenised Judaism was purely accidental, the Roman empire required, was ripe for, a monotheistic and universal religion. Constantine himself simply swapped an unpopular solar monotheism, the cult of the unconquerable sun, for an increasingly popular christianity. In the last analysis we locate that phenomenon in the crisis - or, more accurately, the decline - of slavery as a mode of production. Besides that underlying theme, we cannot but comment on the effect christianity had on the Roman empire and its class relations and antagonisms. Did christianity lessen the oppression of the poor and preach equality? Did christianity represent a bastion of civilisation? Was christianity opposed to exploitation, slavery and torture? In other words, did christianity usher in humanitarian values? In all of this, Karl Kautsky's Foundations of christianity still provides many profound insights, as it has on the subject of ancient Greco-Roman society in general. Our chapters dealing with the origins of christianity are essentially an attempt to critically update Kautsky's argument. Anyone who has read Kautsky's eminently readable tome will appreciate that what success we have achieved, if any, is due to two main factors. Firstly, we stand on his broad shoulders; secondly, knowledge about the ancient world has increased hugely since he published in 1908. Over the last 50 years especially there has been something of a revolution in historical writing, biblical theory and archaeology. Other key books that have provided stepping stones here have been the two main works of Geoffrey de Ste Croix, Hyam Maccoby's Revolution in Judea, Robert Eisenman's monumental James, the brother of Jesus and Israel Finkelstein's and Neil Asher Silberman's The bible unearthed. The odd, but thought-provoking, theory of decline presented by the outstanding Russian historian, Michael Rostovtzeff - ie, that Rome decayed due to the revolutionary insubordination of the peasant army - also rates a special mention, simply because of the light it casts on the autonomy achieved by the empire's state machine - especially pronounced after its adoption of christianity. Rostovtzeff fled Russia following the October 1917 revolution and hated with a passion the proletarian-soldier Bolshevik state and its terrorism. Naturally in terms of ancient texts we have turned to Flavius Josephus and the Dead Sea scrolls (which were famously discovered in 1947 and first made available in a popular translation in the early 1960s). Then, of course, there is the bible. Both testaments, it has to be said, contain little more historical truth than other similar epics: eg, the Babylonian Gilgamesh, the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf or Homer's account of the Trojan war in The Iliad. That does not imply they are worthless. Quite the reverse. From them we gain a unique insight into the social conditions and mental world of their writers/editors. "I would rather have The Iliad than a whole shelf of bronze-age war-reports, however accurate," says one noted translator (EV Rieu [trans] Homer The Iliad Bungay, Sussex 1950, pxiv). Marxists approach the books of the bible, the acts of the apostles and the epistles in a similar fashion. Every one of them is a palimpsest. Each has been subject to wave after wave of systematic alteration. Nevertheless, every deletion and embellishment leaves its significant social or ideological thumb-print or trace evidence, even if it is just in the form of absence. Thus, from these heavily redacted writings, if approached thoughtfully and critically, it is possible to discover both the society and the contending ideas that produced Jesus and which saw the Pauline faction of the Jesus party transformed over the course of three centuries into the state religion of imperial Rome. Chapter seven begins with the funeral of John Paul II - and thanks are due to both Cameron Richards and Eddie Ford for their commentary around this event (Weekly Worker April 7 2005). We go on to deal with the role of the modern catholic church - in particular John Paul II and his claimed hostility to war and capitalism. Some on the left have made much of this. Too much. Alex Callinicos, one of the Socialist Workers Party's leading members, for example, wanted to be counted amongst his mourners. The birth, growth and nemesis of liberation theology constitutes a particular theme. We show why liberation theology was intellectually and practically flawed; it was after all a theology. Liberation theologians were also committed to maintaining organic ties with the autocratic catholic church - a fatal weakness that inevitably brought about the downfall of all good intentions. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - now Benedict XVI - played a leading role in the Vatican's assault on liberation theology. We discuss the famous 'Ratzinger letter'. Islam Engels wrote in 1882 that christianity cannot be disposed of intellectually simply by "declaring it to be nonsense". It can only be overcome if first we succeed in "explaining its origins and development from the historical conditions from which it arose" (K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 24, Moscow 1989, p428). Excellent advice, which we have done our best to follow. Not only when it comes to christianity, but islam too. Chapter eight deals with its origins. Our intention is to question some widely held notions about islam. Certainly the aim is to counter the 'clash of civilisations' thesis put forward in particular by Samuel P Huntington: "The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future" (www.almut.com.subj/economics/misc/clash.html). Of course, behind the 'clash of civilisations' there always lies national and class interests - whether consciously understood or not. By equal measure we want to show that the fundamental texts of islam are not divine in origin. They are thoroughly human and can only be properly explained in historical and materialist terms. For orthodox muslims the Koran is the word of Allah, who spoke through the angel Gabriel directly into the ear of Muhammad: "That is the book, wherein is no doubt," the Koran declares unequivocally (Koran ii,1). Academics, journalists and writers who venture to disagree with this fearsome claim often find themselves targeted with earthly threats of retribution, even death. Obviously, this is especially the case in muslim countries, where threats become all to real. Even so-called liberal muslims are outraged when the supposed historical truth and authenticity of the Koran is doubted or disproved. Such an intolerant atmosphere hardly encourages serious Koranic scholarship. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that the critical study of the Koran is a century behind what has been achieved in terms of both the jewish and christian books of the bible. Nevertheless, despite that, and the fear that palpably exists, a few brave souls have pressed ahead investigating the origins of the Koran. Of course, islam constitutes one of the main religions in the world today, having as it does some one billion adherents. Islam is a continent with many climates. It justifies almost everything. There are incidental muslims of the Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk variety. There is also Osama bin Laden, Louis Farrakhan and Iran's blood-drenched ayatollahs. Meanwhile in the west, rightwing politicians and their gladiatorial media commentators denounce islam as uniquely backward and murderous. Certainly the horrors of 9/11 gave George W Bush his excuse for the invasion of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Within the C-grade limits of the man, the administration of president Bush II represents an uneasy alliance between a morally excitable US christian right and the sophisticated realism of the neoconservatives. Tony Blair in his turn desperately tried to link Iraq with al Qa'eda and his government has enacted draconian 'anti-terrorist' legislation, which even Britain's top lawyers find hard to stomach. In both the US and the UK muslims, unsurprisingly, find themselves on the sharp end in terms of stop and search, raids, arrests, detention orders, etc. In chapter nine we present the lessons found in the writings of Vladimir Lenin and the history of Bolshevism and Soviet Russia. Lenin argued that religion should be a private matter as far as the state is concerned. But not the party. The SWP has distorted, to the point of misrepresentation, that distinction. We examine the difficult course plied by the Soviet regime after the October 1917 revolution and how in the mid-1920s Stalin used his war on religion as a leftist smokescreen for his imminent counterrevolution within the revolution. Not surprisingly we pay particular attention to the Muslim Association of Britain, the British branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. We begin with MB itself, which was founded in Egypt in 1928. Chapter 10 deals with the historical evolution of the MB and arrives at the present-day reality of MAB in Britain, especially in light of the post-September 11 2001 situation and the 'war on terrorism'. This leads on to Respect. Despite committed muslims being few and far between, Alex Callinicos has defined Respect as uniting "secular socialists and muslim activists" (Socialist Worker November 20 2004). This has been the SWP's operative line and in the name of unity, prominent members of islamic organisations such as MAB and Birmingham Central Mosque have been persuaded to accept seats on Respect's executive. Undoubtedly they exert a grossly disproportionate influence. In chapter 11 we discuss the tactics communists should adopt. Both opportunism and sectarianism are rejected. Communists must firmly uphold their principles and yet actively engage with all manner of temporary and vacillating allies. Zionism Chapters 12 to 14 each deal with a different aspect of Zionism - a nationalist ideology, nowadays with an ever increasing religious coloration. In chapter 12 we discuss the nature of medieval Judeaophobia and go on to show that modern Zionism is a reactionary response to the decline of capitalism and the loss of social control by the capitalist class itself. The forebodings of Zionism appear to have been sickeningly confirmed by Hitler's 'final solution'. This commonly accepted idea is criticised as is the use of the Nazi holocaust by contemporary Israel and Zionism. In chapter 13 we turn to the controversy surrounding Norman Finkelstein and his book The holocaust industry. Zionists have accused him of being "slime", along with other equally choice insults. Though he may disagree with some of the conclusions, Eddie Ford's article in the Weekly Worker provides most of the raw material used in examining this question. As he tellingly says, if Finkelstein is a self-hating Jew, then so are "Noam Chomsky, Leon Trotsky and Karl Marx" (Weekly Worker January 27 2005). Zionism and the thorny question of Palestine forms the subject of chapter 14. We argue against the standard approach of the Trotskyite left in Britain which damns Zionism as almost akin to fascism and calls for the immediate abolition of the state of Israel and its replacement by a single Palestinian state. Far from overcoming the division between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, such a stance does nothing to address the necessity for a democratic solution, which surely only the working class can bring about. Our last chapter, chapter 15, is devoted to secularism. The best representatives of the rising bourgeoisie fought against organised religion and argued for something approaching secularism. Capitalist countries are today supposedly secular, yet we show that this is not the case. State and religion interweave, not least in Britain. We completely disassociate ourselves from those on the left who pursue a war on religion; in the case of France, it is today a war against islam. Then there are those who in practice abandon secularism or call it a shibboleth. You guessed it - the most obvious example being the SWP. Secularism enshrines the equality of believers and non-believers. In Britain secularism concretely means the immediate demand for a democratic republic which separates church and state. On this communists brook no compromise l