Editing and Introduction by Lauren A.R. Koslow
Did you know that Socialist Party USA has a Faith and Socialism commission? Faith and socialism are not mutually exclusive! Most of the world’s religions are founded on principles of peace, love, justice for the oppressed, and equality for all.
What follows is a series of personal accounts of Socialist Party USA members for whom a religious tradition or other spiritual perspective has helped to inform their socialist views. Our spiritual diversity should be celebrated just as much as our diversity of gender/identity, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and ability!
Jesus Made Me A Communist (Not A Christian)
Being born and raised a Pentecostal preacher’s kid means you are forced into a radical dilemma. Do you embrace the “Old Time Religion” with all your heart and follow the Holy Ghost road to Heaven? Or do you become a backsliding sinner wasting your substance in wickedness and rebellion? At an early age, I hit upon a radical mission: Let my religion be my rebellion!
One year at Pentecostal summer camp, we young kids were listening to some college kids tell us about serving Jesus full-time. One of the kids – I swear it wasn’t me! – asked one of these smart college kids about communism. This was the early ‘70s, and we were all still afraid of nuclear war and the Russians. That college kid said “Communism is a beautiful idea, but human beings are too sinful for it to work on earth.”
This young rebel preacher’s kid said to himself, “What does being sinners have to do with anything? If it is a beautiful idea, then it is God’s will!” I asked my dad, the preacher, why communism was a beautiful idea. He said that if it worked, it would end poverty. I learned about the story of the first believers in Jesus sharing all their possessions after the Resurrection and Pentecost, and I knew that ending poverty and creating the Communism of Jesus was my holy calling.
When I began my own family some years later, I moved from Texas to Illinois with my wife and daughter to live with a Christian commune for nine years. My heart and soul were wonderfully healed as I was immersed in a community dedicated to a vision of a world transformed by love and justice. Being a Christian was no longer enough; I became a Universalist. “No hell below us, above us only sky, imagine all the people sharing all the world!” I read Karl Marx and deepened my political intelligence, but at the heart of it all was the calling of Jesus to love ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies, and the poor.
Everybody – except the unrepentant ruling class that Jesus will call “wicked goats” as he sends them to Hell – gets to join in the global victory of Love’s Communism. “Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” Every Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Pagan, Christian, or whatever is invited to commit themselves to this holy highest calling. The highest revolutionary truth is found in our struggles and labors for humanity and our planet. It is found in fighting to save all beings from the death-systems of capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist eco-destruction.
We are a caravan of divine beings along this road somewhere this side of the Big Bang and the Garden of Eden on our way to the New Jerusalem and Shangri-La, that golden Communism where all receive love and justice according to their need, returning freedom and prosperity according to their ability.
J. RICHARD MARRA: The Buddha and Marx – Not So Strange Bed Fellows
My life is enriched by the vision offered by Secular Buddhism. Its practitioners seek to improve their mental development, based upon their understanding of the human condition as dukkha, “unsatisfactoriness.” They exercise a pragmatic conduct, a “practice” that is traced to the fundamental teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. The doctrine promotes a positive social engagement which is sensitive to contemporary cultural contexts, while remaining informed by reason and empirical observation. Secular Buddhism represents a critical empirical philosophy that is embodied in its practitioner’s everyday lives and supports positive social development. It admits a critical interpretation of many religious and mystical doctrines of traditional Buddhism, regarding them as metaphorical, yet instructive, representations of the natural world and Buddhist moral precepts.
I also believe that a “Marxian analysis” of the deleterious personal and social effects of capitalism exemplifies an empirical research program within the social sciences, routinely employing familiar explanatory methods and empirical practices of verification. Marxian analysis therefore provides a representation of a dukkha that is directly caused by the dysfunctions of capitalism. I cannot provide a justification here for these claims. Although the scientific status of Marxian analysis has significant critics, research by Henryk Grossman, Andrew Kliman, Paul Baran, and Paul Sweezy is considered empirically robust by important contemporary socialist thinkers.
Marxian analysis provides empirical support for claims that a dukkha of capitalism “exists” and is both explainable and measurable. For example, we could demonstrate a correlation between educational and income disparities by race. Causality resides in the material and social mechanisms of capital. We recognize the dukkha of exploitation and understand its cause in Marx’s Law of Accumulation. Following standard functional analysis in the social sciences, we determine a functionality of racism regarding low wages. We appreciate that the dysfunction of exploitation can be alleviated; it is “impermanent.” We can find out how to do so with reference to the Noble Eightfold Path. Since Secular Buddhism is morally sensitive to inequity, and since it encourages benevolence, the sila (morality) of the Eightfold Noble Path (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood) will guide us toward ameliorating the dukkha of capitalist exploitation.
Secular Buddhism provides the moral dimension that science does not treat. However, Marxian science provides input into an understanding of the world, and that informs an increasingly enlightened consciousness (citta). That consciousness provides the psychological basis for compassionate purposeful action. Buddhism provides a “Right View” of the origin, causality, and the cessation of suffering, providing an inductive justification and functional explanation for purposeful Buddhist political engagement. The sila, or “oughts” of the Noble Eightfold Path connect the facts derived from Marxian analysis and the Noble Truths to a social action that embraces the four highest Buddhist attitudes: loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion, and equanimity.
 Grossman, Henryk. Law of the Accumulation and Breakdown. (Leipzig: Hirschfeld, 1929). http://www.marxists.org/archive/grossman/1929/breakdown/index.htm
 Kliman, Andrew. The Failure of Capitalist Production (London: PlutoPress, 2012).
 Baran, Paul A. & Sweezy, Paul M. Monopoly Capital: An essay on the American economic and social order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).