Karl Marx was not a nationalist nor a spiritual person like that of Georg Hegel, who found the Lutheran faith to be the highest form of religion in a man’s life. If one were to look beyond the exile of the Catholic church, during the early stages of the French Revolution, historical analysis would show a vibrant relationship between religion and nationalism. Marx, unlike Hegel, saw religion as a seductive force; it was an element that, as other Marxists scholars have noted, served as another means of exploiting the means of the masses. As noted in his Opium of the People:
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 abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Marx’s thesis, of class consciousness and class conflict, continues to be relevant today. Though Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism addressed the political shift of the left in relation to societal constructs, Marxism continues to be a significant school of thought in a world divided by class, race, gender, and national interest. Academic disciplines continue to focus on conflicts within society as they seek to explain economic interest in a pluralistic society. And yes, I do believe pluralism is a highly ubiquitous ideology that shapes the social and cultural make-up of the American polity.
But, if Marx had his doubts about the seductive force of religion, on the masses, he would contend that exploitation of any type is exploitation. Not only did Marx see forces of economic interest as being dangerous, the church (Catholic and Protestant) also voiced its concerns about agents that exploit. In a recent class discussion on capitalism, I told my macroeconomics class that Marx would be opposed to both a state lottery system, and casinos. As a self-professed liberal, I too do not favor the lottery or casinos. Here is the problem: politicians support legalizing casino gambling and the lottery because they are influenced by special interest. Many claim it will generate revenue for the state and create jobs; in truth, both exploit the poor, lead to more crime, and increase unemployment. The lottery is an indirect tax. I realize that it is a tax one does not have to pay, but if you are low on the socioeconomic scale, it is easy to be seduced by the possibility of cashing in quick for greater earnings.
In addition, education plays a major role in this matter. If you are poor and have a limited education, the seductive forces of the opium of gambling, will be hard to reject. A man works hard all week to earn a pay check, yet that check is not enough to make ends meet. Thus, he seeks to “earn” additional wages by handing that check over to a casino with the hope of getting rich. Casinos represents the bourgeoisie’s efforts at exploiting the poor. Once that hardworking man surrenders that check, he is granted a credit card to buy alcohol, rent a room, have dinner, and gamble with money he does not have. In the end, he leaves the casino in debt.
This is not an unusual predicament of classic exploitation. Spend time in a poor black inner-city neighborhood. You will see pawn shops, liquor stores, and porn shops. All of which are owned by the same class of people who own casinos and lobby politicians to legislate a state lottery. Their justification: lottery dollars will be used to improve the education of blacks in the inner-city. Special interests always look to states like Georgia and Mississippi as a reason for why it works. I am not convinced. The church is not convinced, as noted by John McArthur, who outlines the sins of gambling here. My two favorite points are 1.) it preys on the weak and 2.) it is part of the sin of materialism. Marx would draw this exact conclusion, too.
I do not think this is an ideological matter; I was a bit shocked that many of my students disagreed with me. They argued that it is a choice. In a society that is made up of freedoms and economic expansion, people have the right to enhance their earnings…be it the casino owner or the uninformed poor person looking to improve his lifestyle. They have the right to hold such a position. It is not my job to change my student’s minds; however, it is my job to present the historical evidence that proves otherwise.