Another wonderful snippet from our good friend, Comrade Joseph. Now it is Lenin and the ‘rock of salvation’ of Christianity:

The fact that Russia, which was formerly regarded by the oppressed nationalities as a symbol of oppression, has now, after it has become socialist, been transformed into a symbol of emancipation, cannot be called an accident. Nor is it an accident that the name of the leader of the October Revolution, Comrade Lenin, is now the most beloved name pronounced by the downtrodden, oppressed peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia of the colonial and unequal countries. In the past, the oppressed and downtrodden slaves of the vast Roman Empire regarded Christianity as a rock of salvation. We are now reaching the point where socialism may serve (and is already beginning to serve!) as the banner of liberation for the millions who inhabit the vast colonial states of imperialism (Stalin, Works, Vol. V, p. 354).

Lenin 90th anniversary of death - Red Square

Lenin and Religion 07

One of Weber’s key theological mistakes concerns the doctrine of election. I know this point has been made before, but it is worth repeating – not least since I keep coming across it in other works as though it were a self-evident truth. Weber suggests that the elect are never certain of their own salvation. God may have elected them to salvation, but they are never quite sure. So they keep looking for signs of election within themselves. Good works become the key, since they are the outward manifestations so desperately sought. The source of this mistake is obvious, since he was trying to account –as an outsider – for the tendency in Reformed traditions to focus on works, despite the strong emphasis on grace. (I have written about that paradox elsewhere, in my book on Calvin.) However, Weber is profoundly mistaken concerning the doctrine of election, specifically in relation to the individual. A person knows, with distinct certainly, that he or she is elected. There are no doubts here, and one can never become an apostate forever.

But you can never be entirely certain concerning the election of others. One should not abrogate God’s role in the process of election and begin making decisions concerning others. The point of this part of the doctrine is to ensure humility rather than arrogance on the part of the elect. Often, the elect turn out to be unexpected, so no one should be written off. On this matter, Weber is partly correct. This uncertainty concerning others can lead to a search for outward signs – in others – of election. But his mistake was to extrapolate that humility to an uncertainty in the individual believer’s own sense of election. Of course, the reason for such a mistake is that he was thinking of Arminianism rather than Calvinism, but that is another story.

We need Stalin now – in Newcastle. Recently, the lid was partly lifted on systemic corruption among the political and business elite: wads of cash in brown paper bags, ‘washing’ illegal ‘donations’ through front organisations, hasty political decisions made to line the pockets of the big capitalists … it goes on. At the same time, the immense stupidity of those decisions became apparent. For instance, the railway line will be cut by two stations, or the equivalent of less than 3 kilometres. In it’s place, the proposal is to build a ‘light rail’ line – for the cost of over $200 million. Sorry, it’s not stupid if you are out to make a profit from public funds: someone has to benefit from that decision in light of the kind of money being doled out. Add to that the fact that developers get their greedy hands on the land freed up to construct even more useless buildings.

So the whole process has been shown to highly corrupt. Anyone would expect an immediate inquiry. Not at all. Instead, there is an unseemly haste to act on the corrupt decisions before any such inquiry can begin.

So we need Stalin today, to sweep his iron broom through the political and business elite.

Stalin and corruption 03a

Stalin and corruption 04a

Stalin's Tobacco 03

In the fashionable cynicism of post-USSR times, it is difficult to recapture the sheer euphoria at the achievement of the USSR itself. In 1922, after long and difficult negotiations, the excitement could hardly be contained. Here is Stalin in December of that year when the new agreement was announced.

here, in the world of Soviets, where the regime is based not on capital but on labour, where the regime is based not on private property, but on collective property, where the regime is based not on the exploitation of man by man, but on the struggle against such exploitation, here, on the contrary, the very nature of the regime fosters among the labouring masses a natural striving towards union in a single socialist family (Works, vol. 5, p. 153).

But, comrades, today is not only a day for summing up, it is at the same time the day of triumph of the new Russia over the old Russia, the Russia that was the gendarme of Europe, the Russia that was the hangman of Asia. Today is the day of triumph of the new Russia, which has smashed the chains of national oppression, organised victory over capital, created the dictatorship of the proletariat, awakened the peoples of the East, inspires the workers of the West, transformed the Red Flag from a Party banner into a State banner, and rallied around that banner the peoples of the Soviet republics in order to unite them into a single state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the prototype of the future World Soviet Socialist Republic.

We Communists are often abused and accused of being unable to build. Let the history of the Soviet power during these five years of its existence serve as proof that Communists are also able to build. Let today’s Congress of Soviets, whose function it is to ratify the Declaration and Treaty of Union of the Republics that were adopted at the Conference of Plenipotentiary Delegations yesterday, let this Union Congress demonstrate to all who have not yet lost the ability to understand, that Communists are as well able to build the new as they are to destroy the old (p. 161).

From time to time I come across these types of simplistic oppositions:

Judaism is collective, whereas Christianity is individualistic.

‘Eastern’ Orthodoxy is collective, while ‘Western’ Christianity is individualistic.

Roman Catholicism is collective, while Protestantism is individualistic.

Obviously, something is not working here. Apart from the religious fallacy (attributing religious causes to issues for which religion is a secondary matter), they suffer from a curiously slipping opposition, all for the sake of identifying the bogeyman, individualism.

Instead, I suggest that each mediates the relationship between collective and individual in different ways. Thus, for Judaism, the individual relates to a community that is as much ethnic as it is religious. In ‘Eastern’ Orthodoxy, sobornost, the spiritual community of people living together, is that with which individuals engage. Initially, it appears that the community is primary, to which the individual must subordinate his or her wishes for the greater good. I have much time for contributions from this approach. Thus, the individual appears as the one who must submit to the community and the individual thereby gains from the communal situation – as long as that is properly collective. However, it has distinct traps, for the community in question is conceived as a hierarchical, if not an autocratic one. Thus, being part of the community is actually being subject to the one who directs the community – priest, patriarch and then emperor. One submits one’s will for the sake of community, ethnic group and state. The good of the whole becomes the good of the autocrat. Here the Slavophilic origins of the term sobornost show up, as also the tendency to Caesaro-papism.

Roman Catholicism recalibrates this slightly. Now the church is supposed to be primary, so much so that is claimed by some to be the only true church. No salvation is found outside the church, so what happens to the individual? The relationship with God is mediated by another individual, the priest, and ultimately by the pope, who represents the mythical line from Peter. Once again, while I have much admiration for the Roman Catholic approach, the danger is submission for the sake of maintaining a smoothly functioning hierarchy.

Some forms of Protestantism come quite close to the Roman Catholic approach, such as the high forms of the Anglican Church. But other types of Protestantism seem initially to be the real culprits here. As the caricature would have it, they remove any mediation and encourage the individual’s relationship to God as primary (although, as we saw above, this is also said of Roman Catholicism and Christianity as a whole). No community is needed any more, and it is each for him or herself. However, a closer look at Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley and others shows quite quickly that they saw the church as absolutely vital. But we can go a step further. Let me take the example of the Reformed and especially Congregationalist traditions. In these cases, any hierarchy has been completely removed – no priests, bishops, patriarchs or popes. Instead, the congregation plays a crucial role. In that congregation, the minister is first among equals in a way that is deeply democratic and collective in its principles – although not often in practice. Perhaps we can put it terms of a dialectic (with debts to Rosa Luxemburg): not only does the collective determine the individual, but the autonomy and self-determination of the individual leads to a greater and voluntary collectivity. To my mind, this is what the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers seeks to express.

I have been reading what is called the ‘resistance genre’ of histories of the Stalin era – Fitzpatrick, Viola, Edele and others. They tend to follow a social history approach, focusing on everyday life in the 1920s and 1930s. People, they argue, engaged in ‘subaltern strategies’ to counter the various planning initiatives and to make ends meet. Quotidian realities were therefore the key, and the economic and social situation quite chaotic. Most of this stuff is deeply liberal, focusing on another aspect of ‘dissent’, with the agenda of showing that the government had little or no support. However, it also undermines the totalitarian hypothesis, for a government that exercises at best haphazard control is hardly a totalitarian one. The problems with such an approach are that they make no sense of the massive popular support for Stalin and the government after Hitler’s attack. Wouldn’t people simply abandon the government and support the Nazis, as they did in parts of western Ukraine?

However, Losurdo offers an intriguing interpretation of the situation. He notes all of the data used by the social historians and points out that this is what it is like working in a socialist economy. Workers and peasants now have immense autonomy, so they can down tools at will and have a discussion. They can take half a day off if needed for important personal matters. They are free to express their opinions and act on them. For a capitalist system, such insubordination is simply unacceptable. Workers need to be disciplined and kept in line so that profits can be made. On this matter, Stalin himself equivocates, at times calling for greater efficiency and discipline, but at other times noting the benefits:

At the Ford plants, for example, which function efficiently, there may be less thieving, nevertheless they function for the benefit of Ford, a capitalist, whereas our enterprises, where thieving takes place sometimes, and things do not always run smoothly, nevertheless function for the benefit of the proletariat. (Works, volume 7, p. 314).

Yes, as of today we have a new research project at the University of Newcastle. It builds on the former Religion and Radicalism project, but is bigger and better. A whole bunch of Marxists have joined us, from history, sociology, education, economics, and so on.

So here’s the propaganda sheet, or manifesto as one member called it.

Religion, Marxism and Secularism

This research program brings together those interested in the rich intersections between religion, Marxism, and secularism. Each has a much-debated presence in global politics and public life, generating some of the most significant issues of our time. We address these debates through three research concentrations:

  1. Marxism: religion, culture and education
  2. History: religion, radicalism and revolution
  3. Political theory: religion after secularisation

The program is based in the School of Humanities and Social Science in the Faculty of Education and Arts, at the University of Newcastle. The university is uniquely positioned for such a research program: it is situated in the Hunter Valley of Australia, with its rich mixture of working class culture, artistic communities, and a stunning natural environment. This context has produced a long history of radical political and religious activity, creating the possibilities for thinking in new ways and for exploring unexpected connections and ideas.

The Religion, Marxism and Secularism program brings together researchers with skills from philosophy, religious thought, history, sociology, education, cultural studies and political theory. The program is also the nerve centre for a global research network, with international conferences, scholarly exchanges, postgraduate students from around the world, and a major book series with Palgrave Macmillan, called Religion and Radicalism.

Marxism: Religion, Culture and Education

Marxism in all its variety is the focus of this concentration, with specific interest in religion, culture and education.

The perpetual and sustained interest in religion by Marxist philosophy goes back to Marx and Engels, and it is found in all of the leading philosophers and activists of that tradition, including Lenin and Mao Zedong. We also research the use of Marxist methods for interpreting religions, with a focus on historical movements, scriptures, and religious thought. Indeed, the University of Newcastle is at the centre of a world-wide renewal in debates over the question of Marxism and religion.

Cultural analysis has been a feature of Marxist approaches for decades. Our concerns are popular cultural forms, such as music, literature, film, and the internet – with a focus on protest and resistance. In terms of education and Marxism, the history is long and full of fascinating practices: Soviet-era Russia and Eastern Europe provide rich contexts for analysis, as do the continuing educational policies of Vietnam, China and South American socialism.

The Marxism concentration has close collaborative research links with centres for Marxism in China. These include Renmin University (Beijing), Fudan University (Shanghai) and the Academy of Marxism, within the Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing).

History: Religion, Radicalism, Revolution

Historical analysis is another crucial feature of our program, with a focus on revolution and radical religion. While the religious right has been grabbing the headlines (Christian reactionaries, Islamic militants, Hindu nationalists), the radically progressive forms of religion and politics have received less attention. We seek to address this imbalance.

The revolutionary religious tradition is long and colourful, full of ‘heretics’, armed peasants and workers, and new forms of communal life. This tradition typically has three features. First, tyrannical earthly powers are condemned since they do not live up to divine justice, particularly for the poor and oppressed. Second, communal forms of life are practised, in which radical equality – in terms of gender, class and ethnicity – is assumed and property is held in common. We are particularly interested in the crucial role of gender and sexuality in such formations. Third, new types of spirituality appear that both arise from and feed into communal life and radical calls for justice. Such movements have appeared from the earliest moments of religions such as Christianity, including the Peasant Revolution with Thomas Müntzer of sixteenth century Europe, the Diggers with Gerrard Winstanley in seventeenth century England, the Taiping Revolution in nineteenth century China, Liberation theologies of the twentieth century and their influence on politics today in Latin America.

Political Theory: Religion after Secularisation

Religion’s new and persistent visibility demands critical analysis of past secularisation theory. Assumed interpretations of key European thinkers such as Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger and Karl Barth are now challenged and members of our team are leading the effort to reinterpret their work. A significant feature of the program is to develop an Australian tradition of political theory that contributes to international debate. Earlier elements of this tradition may be found not in the assumed locations of philosophical endeavour, but rather in the unexpected realms of religious thought. Further, we explore key contemporary issues such as interreligious strife in the public sphere and the unfolding investigations into sexual abuse by clergy in major religious traditions. These elements will be worked into an innovative and coherent whole that addresses the distinct nature of Australian political life.

People

Director

Roland Boer, School of Humanities and Social Science

Members (in alphabetical order):

Geoffrey Boucher, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

Euridice Charon-Cardona, School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Tom Griffiths, School of Education

James Juniper, Newcastle Business School, Faculty of Business and Law

Terry Lovat, Faculty of Education and Arts

Frank Millward, School of Fine Arts

Marion Maddox, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

Roger Markwick, School of Humanities and Social Science

Kathleen McPhillips, School of Humanities and Social Science

Sara Motta, Newcastle Business School, Faculty of Business and Law

Christina Petterson, School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Timothy Stanley, School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Research Assistants

Robert Myles, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle

Sean Durbin, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University; School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle

Research Students

Malutafa Faalili

Sergey Kozin

Yazhi Li

Niall McKay

Diane Rayson

Visiting Fellows

Lu Shaochen, Centre for the Study of Contemporary Marxism Abroad, Fudan University, China (2012)

Mika Ojakangas, School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland (2013)

Chen Guo, Social Sciences Institute, Fudan University, China (2014-2015)

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