In light of all the hyperbole over the recent attacks in Paris, it may be worthwhile to remind ourselves of the modern history of ‘terrorism’. To begin with, it was the favoured mode of the radical Anabaptist groups in the sixteenth century. In the wake of the Münster Revolution of 1534-35, the most radical part of Europe at the time was the northern Netherlands, especially in the areas of Friesland and Groningen. Here squads of some hundreds engaged in systematic ‘terrorism’, including arson, destruction, large-scale killings of ‘infidels’ and so forth. Their leaders were a colourful lot, including Jan van Batenburg, Cornelis Appelman, and Johan Willemsz. Crucially, this was a Christian development in the radical north. Soon enough, the area would become home to staunch Calvinists.

A second moment appears with some anarchist elements in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They were keen to make an impact and spread uncertainty among governments and corporations. In Western Europe and North America, they managed to bomb an opera house in Barcelona in 1893, bomb the French parliament in 1893, bomb the Cafe Terminus in Paris in 1894, assassinate Marie-Francois Sadi Carnot, the French President, in 1894, bomb the Greenwich Observatory in London in 1894, assassinate William McKinley, the American President, in 1901, bomb the wedding of King Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenie in Barcelona in 1906, and bomb Wall Street in 1920.

A third moment appears in Russia of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will), especially its militant wing, engaged in bombings, assassinations and so forth. They managed to assassinate Tsar Aleksandr II in 1881 (after a few attempts). Notably, Lenin’s brother, Aleksandr Ulianov, was involved, although he was arrested and executed in 1887 for his part in the attempted assassination of the next tsar.

The fourth moment follows on the heels of Narodnaya Volya, namely the Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs). A significant force in the wider Left in Russia, they retained terrorism as a tactic, even to the point of being involved in the attempted assassination of Lenin – not a good move when the Bolsheviks were in power.

Indeed, a notable feature of communist movements is that they eschewed ‘terror’ as a revolutionary tactic, since they saw it was counter-productive.

On Friday evening at the Historical Materialism conference in London, I had the opportunity to deliver the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Lecture. I must admit, I was somewhat nervous, but Gilbert Ashcar, the chair, put me at ease. He enabled me to redirect my energies to the lecture, at which a good crowd seemed to pay close attention. A photo sent to me after the lecture:

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The text of the opening of the lecture, called ‘Marxism, Religion and the Taiping Revolution‘, is as follows:

In early 1837 one Hong Xiuquan sank into a delirium and had a vision in the small southern Chinese village of Guanlubu. The vision was populated by many of the figures one would expect from traditional Chinese mythology and some not. Taken up into heaven he was greeted by children dressed in yellow, a cock, a tiger, a dragon. They led him to a high gate bathed in light, surrounded by musicians. Here some other men in dragon robes and horned hats cut his body open and replaced his organs with clean new ones. The wound was healed as though it had never been. Now he became aware of his mother, who washed him in a blood-coloured stream. He also became aware of an older brother, who would later become crucial. Inside the gates, he was led to his father, a tall erect man with a black dragon robe. His father’s golden beard flowed down to his waist.

Hong and his father spoke of many matters, but especially the demons and devils who had even begun to infiltrate the 33 levels of heaven. Hong urged his father to overcome reluctance and allow Hong to attack the demons. With the gift of a seal and a powerful sword called ‘Snow-in-the-Clouds’, Hong (supported by his elder brother) wreaked havoc among the demons, to the point of having the king of the demons in his grasp. He stayed his hand only at his father’s request. The demon king and his minions were banished to earth. For a time Hong stayed in heaven, with a wife who had born him a son. He studied mysterious texts that took some effort to understand (much to the impatience and annoyance of his elder brother).

Yet Hong’s father would not let him rest in heaven, for the demons still roamed the earth. So Hong was given two mysterious poems, a new name (Xiuquan) and a title, ‘Heavenly King, Lord of the Kingly Way, Quan [Completeness]’. To earth Hong returns, with his heavenly father’s urging not to fear and promise to help.

Meanwhile, what did his family and friends do as they kept watch at his bed in the village of Guanlubu, while he ranted and raved? They thought he had gone mad. At times during his delirium, he would call out, get up and run around the room while making sword thrusts, only to collapse back on his bed. At one point he wrote out his new title in red ink and posted it on the door. That door was kept firmly locked, since the family would have been held to account should he have done harm to anyone else.

Perhaps Hong Xiuquan himself understood the dream? Not so, it seems. Upon waking, he was unable to make sense of it. So he gradually settled back into village life, began teaching children again and studying the Confucian texts in preparation for his next attempt at the civil service examinations.

And to add to the festival, an interview with Gilbert Ashcar was made before the lecture. It should be available shortly.

All in all, I had a wonderful time, having to chance to meet and talk with the friendly people of the Deutscher Prize committee. But I should say that a real highlight also was to meet George Hallam, from Lewisham.

The Deutscher Memorial Prize Committee informs you of the title and venue of the 2014 winner’s Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Prize Lecture
Roland Boer – Marxism, Religion and the Taiping Revolution
Hosted by Historical Materialism 2015 Conference at SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG,
Friday November 6, 2015, 18:15 – 20:00pm, Khalili Lecture Theatre
We are also pleased to announce the 2015 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Prize Committee shortlist
Dave Beech, Art and Value, Brill 2015
Tamás Krausz, Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography, Monthly Review Press, 2015
Lucia Pradella, Globalization and the Critique of Political Economy: New Insights from Marx’s Writings, Routledge, 2014
David Roediger, Seizing Freedom, Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, Verso, 2014

The winner of the 2015 prize will be announced at the start of the 2015 Lecture.

from The Deutscher Prize committee


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:

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.

James Endicott (1898-1993) was both a Christian missionary and a communist. Of Canadian background, he was ordained as a minister in the United Church. His claim to fame was active support of the communists leading up 1949 and then, back in Canada after more than two decades in China, speaking and agitating openly for support of the PRC. He was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1952, for his work towards peaceful coexistence between communists and Christians.


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This was a meeting between Endicott and Zhou Enlain in 1972.

Are we witnessing the end of the myth of Western classicism? By this I mean the myth that ancient Greece, with its philosophers, drama, art, culture and pretence at democracy, is the foundation of ‘Western’ – that is, European – culture. The efforts by many of the north-western European powers to force Greece out of the Eurozone and the European Union suggest that we may well be seeing the end of that myth.

Slightly less than two hundred years ago, ancient Greece entered forcefully into the Western European consciousness. In 1823 Greece began fighting for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Support in Western Europe was widespread and enthusiastic. By 1827, the Ottoman fleet was destroyed at Navarino. Greece became autonomous and independent, which for many Europeans was Greece’s ‘natural’ status. In Western Europe, people of all manner of persuasions supported Greece’s inclusion in Europe: Christians, political liberals and left-wingers, conservatives and even new humanists. Greece stood at the border of civilised Europe and the barbarous Orient, so it was crucial to claim that it was part of a vibrant and advanced Europe. No longer were ancient Egypt, India and China the embodiments of power, wealth and wisdom.

The elevation of all things Greek was spectacular. What had been a trickle became a flood. As custodians of ancient Greece, the modern Greeks embodied ‘progress’ in terms of freedom, harmony, individualism and the role of reason, and they provided the sources of philosophy, drama, the arts, politics and the ideal of the human form. Philhellenes abounded, especially in Germany, where Greece was regarded as the true source of all that was good in the world. Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Friedrich August Wolf may have been precursors in the later eighteenth century, but by the nineteenth century Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, the Humboldts and Hegel all proclaimed the greatness of Greece. For Hegel, only in ancient Greece had human society begun ‘to live in its homeland’ (The Philosophy of History, 1837, p. 247). Or as Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, an early sociologist, wrote in Kulturgeschichtliche Charakterkopfe (1891) concerning his recollections of life in a German gymnasium of the time:

We regarded Greece as our second homeland; for it was the seat of all nobility of thought and feeling, the home of harmonious humanity. Yes, we even thought that ancient Greece belonged to Germany because, of all the modern peoples, the Germans had developed the deepest understanding of the Hellenic spirit, of Hellenic art, and of the harmonious Hellenic way of life.

How things have changed. A couple of centuries ago, a Western Europe conscious of its new global power needed a dynamic new model that was in some way European. The classical Greeks provided that image: youthful, energetic, progressive, even ‘democratic’ (although this took longer to emerge). The ‘Classics’ became the core requirements for educating the ruling class, providing a cultural framework that had its own codes and signals. Plato occupied the chair in many philosophy departments, with Aristotle his understudy. Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes found similar locations in drama departments. Pericles and Athenian democracy became the darlings of political science. All of them seemed very much present, interlocutors in current debates.

Now Greece is a pariah. For north-western Europeans in our time, Greece is the embodiment of ‘southern laziness’. Their culture is chaotic; they cannot manage their finances; they allow all those dreadful Africans into Europe; they are too close to Turkey and the turmoil of the Middle East. So for the last five years, they have been punished with ‘austerity’ measures, administered by European banks, funds and politicians. At the forefront is Germany, which has had a profound change of heart. And when the Greeks elected a mildly left-wing government, led by Syriza, the grey bureaucrats of the European Union felt called upon to punish Greece even further. How dare they vote against austerity measures! They will be brought to heel. So each time the government of Tsipras caves in and agrees to the latest round of measures, the EU manipulators raise the bar.

Indeed, it has become clear that a hard-core majority of European states want to push Greece out of the Eurozone, out of the European Union, and thereby out of Europe. They keep proposing measures that Greeks can hardly accept. The tragedy in all of this is that many Greeks have internalised the myth of the Greek origins of Europe. While they oppose the crippling austerity measures, they overwhelmingly wish to remain part of Europe. Indeed, they cannot imagine that the rest of Europe would banish them. Or rather, they respond with disbelief that north-western Europe should wish to do so. In light of this situation, it may well be that for the time being the government caves in to the latest and even harsher measures. But this will be yet another step in the process of banishing Greece.

The symbolism is powerful. The fount of Western civilisation is now being stripped of that mythical honour. It may have enjoyed this status for a couple of centuries, but it is fading fast. But this raises a problem: who or what will become the new basis? Will it be a revamped Aryan myth? Not so long ago, this myth was expressed in terms of the Indo-European hypothesis. The problem with the hypothesis is that it included the Greeks. But another strain has always argued that human civilisation began not in the ‘fertile crescent’ of the Middle East, not even among the Mediterranean peoples, but in northern latitudes. Will this become the dominant myth of north-western Europe as it demonises anyone from southern or eastern Europe – especially Greece?

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