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Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but I have been in Auckland for a couple of days and then Beijing. Let me begin with the Beijing events, the main one of which was the preliminary ‘conference of experts’ for a funded project called ‘Chinese Marxism: On the Sinification of Marxism in Chinese Academia’. I had to front up before some senior and well-known Chinese scholars, each of whom gave a detailed response to the project. This is something of a ritual in Chinese projects, after which everyone goes to dinner and raises a toast to the project. Apart from the news item, a few photos:

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The lecture at the University of Auckland was organised by Robert Myles and Caroline Blyth and was called ‘What Has Marxism to Do with Religion?’ They even made a youtube video, which is here in all its glory:

Having completed a meeting with the Academy of Marxism here in Beijing (a subdivision of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), I am pleased to provide the following preliminary announcement. It will soon appear with more details on the University of Newcastle website.


The China Road conference focuses on China’s distinct path in the modern world. This path has also been called ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ and the ‘Beijing Consensus’. The conference will examine the meanings of these terms in the areas of Marxism, philosophy, economics, politics, society, culture, and international relations in the Asian Century. It will be undertaken in a supportive environment, seeking insight, understanding and constructive criticism. The conference is ideally placed to make a significant impact, attracting attention by the media and the wider public.


Date: 19-21 August 2016

Place: City of Newcastle, Australia (venue TBA)

Sponsors: Academy of Marxism (within Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) and the University of Newcastle, Australia


The themes of the conference are:

  1. The role of Marxism in Modern China
  2. The Chinese Road and the Asian Century
  3. Society and culture between China and Australia
  4. Australia’s engagement with the Chinese Road

In my long journey of learning Chinese, one the greatest pleasures concerns the myriad measure words. Every time you use a number with an object numbered, you need a measure word. The ones to use have an internal logic that defies me.

For example, long narrow things like rivers, snakes and trousers use:

条 tiao

‘Two snakes’ is: liang tiao she

However, when you want to speak of a section of something long, you use:

段 duan

‘The northern part of the canal’ is: yunhe de bei duan

I have at last completed my careful reading of the published works of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Stalin). On the way, I have found that few actually do so, for the attitudes to Stalin seem to be set. This is especially so among the many on the Left, for whom Stalin is the great betrayer. The assumption is that he was not a socialist at all, so one may conveniently neglect any serious engagement. The problem is that one simply misses the rich history of socialism in power, with all of its mistakes and achievements.

I have also found that the name ‘Stalin’ generates a profound polarisation, between veneration or demonisation. The latter is usually the case, whether one is engaging with the closed circles of thought in European Marxism, liberals who seek to find yet more reasons to condemn Stalin while engaging in ‘objective’ research’ and even in China, where one would expect a somewhat different approach and interest given the long Chinese experience of socialism in power. On my part, I am more interested in the dynamics of such polarisation rather than falling into its trap.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of reading Stalin and posting items from his works is the way preset assumptions concerning Stalin influence how my own perspective is understood. Simply because I have been intrigued by his works and posted quotations that reveal unexpected dimensions of his thought, some have assumed that I am a ‘Stalinist’, whatever that means. (Stalin himself merely identified as a Marxist-Leninist.)

Above all, my interest in Stalin emerged as I became increasingly drawn to understanding the experiences of socialism in power. This began when I was studying Lenin and I found the time after the October Revolution the most significant. Lenin was the first who was able to say – from direct experience – that working towards a revolution and achieving power was the easy part. Far, far more complex and fraught with problems was the exercise of power. Stalin too found this a reality, and Mao soon found that Lenin’s observation was correct. The strange thing is that many on the Left avoid dealing with this topic. This is a profound shame, since there is a wealth of experience from which to learn.

On 5 March, 1946, Winston Churchill delivered his infamous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in Fulton, United States. Soon after Stalin was interviewed concerning his response to the speech. He was, understandably, somewhat taken aback, since there had been a number of agreements made for post-war peaceful cooperation. In particular, Stalin observes:

Mr. Churchill and his friends bear a striking resemblance to Hitler and his friends. Hitler began his work of unleashing war by proclaiming a race theory, declaring that only German-speaking people constituted a superior nation. Mr. Churchill sets out to unleash war with a race theory, asserting that only English-speaking nations are superior nations, who are called upon to decide the destinies of the entire world. The German race theory led Hitler and his friends to the conclusion that the Germans, as the only superior nation, should rule over other nations. The English race theory leads Mr. Churchill and his friends to the conclusion that the English-speaking nations, as the only superior nations, should rule over the rest of the nations of the world.

Actually, Mr. Churchill, and his friends in Britain and the United States, present to the non-English speaking nations something in the nature of an ultimatum: ‘Accept our rule voluntarily, and then all will be well; otherwise war is inevitable’ …

Mr. Churchill asserts that ‘Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, Sofia—all these famous cities and the populations around them lie within the Soviet sphere and are all subject in one form or another not only to Soviet influence, but to a very high and increasing measure of control from Moscow’. Mr. Churchill describes all this as ‘unlimited expansionist tendencies’ on the part of the Soviet Union.

It needs no particular effort to show that in this Mr. Churchill grossly and unceremoniously slanders both Moscow, and the above-named States bordering on the U.S.S.R.

In the first place it is quite absurd to speak of exclusive control by the U.S.S.R. in Vienna and Berlin, where there are Allied Control Councils made up of the representatives of four States and where the U.S.S.R. has only one-quarter of the votes. It does happen that some people cannot help in engaging in slander. But still, there is a limit to everything.

Secondly, the following circumstance should not be forgotten. The Germans made their invasion of the U.S.S.R. through Finland, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary. The Germans were able to make their invasion through these countries because, at the time, governments hostile to the Soviet Union existed in these countries. As a result of the German invasion the Soviet Union has lost irretrievably in the fighting against the Germans, and also through the German occupation and the deportation of Soviet citizens to German servitude, a total of about seven million people. In other words, the Soviet Union’s loss of life has been several times greater than that of Britain and the United States of America put together. Possibly in some quarters an inclination is felt to forget about these colossal sacrifices of the Soviet people which secured the liberation of Europe from the Hitlerite yoke. But the Soviet Union cannot forget about them. And so what can there be surprising about the fact that the Soviet Union, anxious for its future safety, is trying to see to it that governments loyal in their attitude to the Soviet Union should exist in these countries? How can anyone, who has not taken leave of his wits, describe these peaceful aspirations of the Soviet Union as expansionist tendencies on the part of our State? …

Mr. Churchill would like Poland to be administered by Sosnkowski and Anders, Yugoslavia by Mikhailovich and Pavelich, Rumania by Prince Stirbey and Radescu, Hungary and Austria by some King of the House of Hapsburg, and so on. Mr. Churchill wants to assure us that these gentlemen from the Fascist backyard can ensure true democracy.

Such is the “democracy” of Mr. Churchill.

I am delivering the following public lecture at the University of Auckland, on 9 September.


What has Marxism to do with Religion?

‘Opium of the people’ is one description of religion that we find in the work of Marx and Engels. When it came to socialists in power, they were supposed to have repressed all forms of religious expression. The curious fact is that many of the major Marxists – Marx and Engels included – had a good deal more to say about religion, especially Christian theology.

This lecture explores some of the key questions in that extended engagement. It begins by reconsidering the metaphor of opium, or what Lenin called ‘spiritual booze’. Second, it examines Engels’s proposals concerning the revolutionary religious tradition, beginning with early Christianity. This would become a staple in Marxism, with subsequent thinkers and activists elaborating on this tradition. Finally, it considers the thorny question of a religious person being a member of the communist party. Did one have to tick the box marked ‘atheist’ before being allowed to join? On this matter we visit the First International, the Bolsheviks, the Cuban Communist Party and the Communist Party of China.

Wednesday 9 September, 5.30pm
Room 315, Arts 1 (Building 206)
The University of Auckland
For more information and full abstract

The following two days will be taken up with the ‘Radicalism, Violence and Religious Texts’ Conference. Abstracts may be found at Robert Myles’s blog.

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