V. I. Lenin
To: MAXIM GORKY
Written in the second half of November 1913
First published in 1924 in Lenin Miscellany I. Sent from Cracow to Capri.
Lenin Collected Works, Volume 35, pages 127-129.
... On the question of god, the god-like and everything connected with it, there is a contradict ion in your position—the same, I think, which I used to point out in our talks when we last met in Capri. You broke (or appeared to break) with the Vperyod people, without having noticed the ideological basis of “Vperyodism”.
The same has happened now. You are “most vexed”, you “cannot understand how the words ‘for the time being’ crept in”—that is how you write—and yet at the same time you defend the idea of God and god-building.
“God is the complex of those ideas, worked out by the tribe, the nation, mankind, which awaken and organise social feelings, having as their object to link the individual, with society and to bridle zoological individualism.”
This theory is obviously connected with the theory or theories of Bogdanov and Lunacharsky.
And it is clearly wrong and clearly reactionary. Like the Christian socialists (the worst variety of “socialism”, and its worst distortion), yon make use of a method which (despite your best intentions) repeals the hocus-pocus of the priests: you eliminate from the idea of God everything about it that is historical and drawn from real life (tilth, prejudices, sanctified ignorance and degradation, on the one hand, serfdom and monarchy, on the other), and instead of the reality of history and life (here is substituted in the idea of God a gentle petty-bourgeois phrase (God=“ideas which awaken and organise social feelings”).
Your wish in so doing is to say something “good and kind”, to point out “truth and justice” and the like. But your good wish remains your personal affair, a subjective “ innocent desire”. Once you have written it down, it goes out among the masses, and its significance is determined not by your good wishes, but by the relationship of social forces, the objective relationship of classes. By virtue of that relationship it turns out (irrespective of your will and independently of your consciousness) that you have put a good colour and a sugary coating on the idea of the clericals, the Purishkeviches, Nicholas II and the Struves, since in practice the idea of God helps them keep the people in slavery. By beautifying the idea of god, you have beautified the chains with which they fetter ignorant workers and peasants. There—the priests and Co. will say—what a good and profound idea this is (the idea of God), as even “your” leaders recognise, Messrs. democrats: and we (the priests and Co.) serve that idea.
it is untrue that god is the complex of ideas which awaken and organise social feelings. That is Bogdanov idealism, which suppresses the material origin of ideas. God is (in history and in real life) first of all the complex of ideas generated by the brutish subjection of man both by external nature and by the class yoke—ideas which consolidate that subjection, lull to sleep the class struggle. There was a time in history when, in spite of such an origin and such a real meaning of the idea of God, the struggle of democracy and of the proletariat went on in the form of a struggle of one religious idea against another.
But that time, too, is long past.
Nowadays both in Europe and in Russia any, even the most refined and best-intentioned defence or justification of the idea of God is a justification of reaction.
Your entire definition is reactionary and bourgeois, through and through. God==the complex of ideas which “awaken and organise social feelings, having as their object to link the individual with society and to bridle zoological individualism
Why is this reactionary? Because it falsely colours the idea of “bridling” zoology preached by priests and feudals. In reality, “zoological individualism” was bridled not by the idea of God, it was bridled both by the primitive herd and the primitive community. The idea of God always put to sleep and blunted the “social feelings”, replacing the living by the dead, being always the idea of slavery (the worst, hopeless slavery). Never has the idea of God “linked the individual with society”: it has always tied the oppressed classes hand and foot with faith in the divinity of the oppressors.
Your definition is bourgeois (and not scientific, not historical) because it operates with sweeping, general, “Robinson Crusoe” conceptions in general, not with definite classes in a definite historical epoch.
The idea of God among the Zyrian savages, etc. (including semi-savages) is one thing. With Struve and Co. it is something quite different. In both cases class domination supports this idea (and this idea supports it). The “popular” conception of God and the divine is “popular” ignorance, degradation, darkness, just like the “popular conception” of the tsar, the devil and dragging wives by the hair. I completely fail to understand how you can call the “popular conception” of God “democratic”.
It is untrue that philosophical idealism “always has in view only the interests of the individual”. Did Descartes have the interests of the individual more in mind than Gassendi? Or Fichte and Hegel as compared with Feuerbach?
That “god-building is the process of the further development and accumulation of social elements in the individual and society” is simply terrible!! If there were freedom in Russia, the entire bourgeoisie would praise you to the skies for such things, for such sociology and theology of a purely bourgeois type and character.
Well, that’s enough for the time being: this letter is too long as it is. Once again, I shake your hand and wish you good health.
Struve, P. B. (1870–1944)—bourgeois economist and publicist, a leader of the Constitutional-Democratic (Cadet) Party. In the nineties he was a prominent representative of “legal Marxism”. and tried to adapt Marxism and the working-class movement to the interests of the bourgeoisie.