When Karl Marx said, “Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.” He was trying to summarize his very controversial point of view, that religion is a crutch that people fall back on to escape the physical reality. People use it as a reason to get up in the morning and suffer another day of backbreaking labor so they can afford to buy bread to feed their families, as opposed to stealing what they want / need (for fear of being punished in the after life.) He felt that religion gave people a way to deal with grief and problems in their lives, but like opium he felt that religion took hold or peoples lives and gave them a false sense of hope.
Needless to say Marx was an Atheist (from the Greek a “without” and theos “deity”,) which commonly and loosely refers to denial of the existence of a higher power. The meaning of atheism has varied considerably in history: even the earliest Christians were labeled “atheists” because they denied the existence of the Roman gods. In Western culture, where monotheism has been the dominant religious belief, atheism has generally referred to the denial of the existence of a transcendent, perfect, personal / creator of the universe. To be an atheist does not mean no religious beliefs. For there are “high” religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, that do not assume the existence of a supernatural being. Marx was a militant critic of religion generally and of Christianity particularly.
He pointed out the ultimate conflict of interest in the Catholic Church during the 19th century (The time when he lived). The fact that the church was telling people that their lives would be better in heaven (if you gave money to the church) and that life on earth was a test. Well at the same time taking the peasants money and getting rich. Which made the peasants more depressed, which caused them to come back to the church. Marx saw human nature as being ideally suited for social living and collaborative work, but he saw people as exploited and oppressed by capitalism and religion. He envisioned a community of social work and education, which he would create by starting a revolution, which he felt, would lead to communism.
Communism did take off many different places at different points in history, with varying degrees of success. In recent years, many Buddhist leaders have lost their influence, and some nations have lost interest in Buddhism. Vietnam and Cambodia have joined China, Mongolia, Tibet, and North Korea as once Buddhistic but now Communist nations. Even as Western ideology (whether in the form of communism or capitalism) has moved into Asia, however, Buddhism has begun to spread in the West. Tibetan and Japanese sects especially have a firm hold in America and Western Europe, and in the face of further uncertainties in Asia, a few Buddhist leaders have even come to think that the future of their religion lies in Japan.
One of the reasons that so many of the once Buddhist nations have found themselves under communist rule, is because both ideologies are very similar. For example much like Marx’s idea of a classless utopian society where all people are equal (Communism,) Buddhism teaches that all people no matter how much they make or the color of their skin are equal. It is just as hard for a farmer to follow the eight-fold path and understand the four Nobel truths as it is for a king. Buddhism also says nothing of a superior entity. By the 1st century AD Central Asian Buddhist monks were penetrating in turn into China. It is a matter of some debate, which was transformed more in this process, China by Buddhism or Buddhism by China.
On the one hand, at an early stage, Buddhists became very influential at the Chinese court, and soon their views penetrated the philosophical and literary circles of the gentry. On the other hand, early translators of Buddhist texts often adopted Taoist terminology in an attempt to make the Indian Buddhist concepts more understandable, and Buddhism adapted itself to Chinese world views, in particular to their stress on the importance of the family. Karl Marx and other social analysts see religious belief as the product of socioeconomic forces. Such philosophical and religious leaders as the Buddha and Karl Marx instructed their disciples through informal organizations, and voiced their disbelief in a higher power. All that said, they were both men living in unstable times and both men found solutions to the problems plaguing the countries around them and set the them in motion, and there is a lot to be said for that. Although both were praised and criticized for their ideas they both stood up to adversity and triumphed.
And still now as we enter into the new millenium we can still see the changes that these men made to history all around us. Which is a lot more then can be said for most leaders (political or religious).