A little while ago I quoted Nadezhda Krupskaya concerning her and Lenin’s regular church attendance while they lived in London. Others also commented on the habit, such as Trotsky, who went with them on at least one occasion. Of course, these were Christian socialist and Christian anarchist churches, often independent and established by charismatic leaders who broke away from a mainstream church.

But why in the world did Lenin and Krupskaya attend? There was no free meal, no free lodgings. It’s worth remembering that the reasons people attend church are as diverse as the number of people in the congregation. Not all present believe, not all are orthodox in any sense, not all are ardent. Yet, the relationship with these radical churches was not a passing affair, for when the fifth congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was seeking a safe exilic venue to meet in 1907, they were able to secure the Brotherhood Church in Southgate Road, Hackney, in London. That church, originating in 1887 under the influence of various streams such as Christian socialism, anarchism, pacifism, Quakers and Tolstoy, continues to exist today now as a community in Stapleton.


Beneath the pious charade, one begins to suspect so. Two instances come to mind.

First, back in 1976 the guy in charge in the Vatican – Paul IV – was scouting around for a new cardinal, preferably from Asia. One of his assistants mentioned a certain Archbishop Jaime Sin, from the Philippines. ‘Shit yeah’, said the pope, ‘he’s our man’. ‘Why?’ someone asked. ‘You can’t pass up the opportunity for a Cardinal Sin’. So Cardinal Sin he became , and remained so for almost 30 years.

Second, in 1974 the famous church historian, Cardinal Jean Daniélou, was found dead in a brothel at the age of 69. On his person was a bag of cash. When the archbishop of Paris was asked to comment, he said in a deadpan voice, ‘Cardinal Daniélou was … on an errand of mercy’.

I’m sure there’s other examples out there.

(ht ks for the second)

Yes, and reasonably regularly while he and Nadya were living in London in 1902-3:

He visited eating houses and churches. In English churches the service is usually followed by a short lecture and a debate. Ilyich was particularly fond of those debates, because ordinary workers took part in them … Once we wandered into a socialist church. There are such churches in England. The socialist in charge was droning through the Bible, and then delivered a sermon to the effect that the exodus of the Jews from Egypt symbolized the exodus of the workers from the kingdom of capitalism to the kingdom of socialism. Everyone stood up and sang from a socialist hymn-book: ‘Lead us, O Lord, from the Kingdom of Capitalism to the Kingdom of Socialism’. We went to that church again afterwards – it was the Seven Sisters Church.

Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin, pp. 72-3.

No wonder the latter half of the Second Congress of the party was held in a church in London.

Although Gramsci was fascinated by the Church, mining the Roman Catholics for tips on how to run the communist party and holding up the Reformation as the last great bottom-to-top revolution, he has no romantic delusions.

Thus, ‘Jesuitism is an advance when compared to idolatry, but it is an obstacle to the development of modern civilization’ (Q1§107). And yet other elements within the Roman Catholic Church, such as the integralists, made the Jesuits look like a moderate centre-party of a Church that had already assumed ‘the mummified shape of a formalistic and absolutist organism’ which ‘hangs together only by virtue of the rigidity typical of a paralytic’ (Q20§4(ii).

Some delicious terms from the spermatic spluttering pen of Lenin: not only were the Russian secret police known as ‘archangels’, but the clergy – bless their souls – gained the enviable appellation of ‘gendarmes in cassocks’.

… the separation of sex and procreation is in effect a state capitalist programme of bioethical tyranny etc etc. To my mind the Papacy is the crucial bulwark against this.

Alasdair Maclagan (spokesperson for UFO – Ultra-Fucking-Orthodoxy).

Ever since I was growing up in the Reformed and then Presbyterian Churches of Australia, I have wondered why churches that espouse predestination have a ‘freewill’ offering (dig for money) at every worship service.

As part of my work on a study called ‘A Letter to the Pope’ (on Marxism and Roman Catholic social teaching), I keep an occasional eye on what the bishop of Rome says from time to time. The latest, as most will know by know, is of course the recent small admission that the use of condoms may be allowed as an initial step to prevent HIV/AIDS. Momentous, a stunning breakthrough, an extraordinary turnaround – these and more are the superlatives being heaped on the decision. Now, let’s put this in perspective: not only does allow a small role role for condoms in certain cases, but it is about as stunning and progressive as the admission that Galileo got it right on heliocentrism – an admission made on 31 October 1992, almost five centuries later.

About a year ago I posted a piece on the dire financial trouble of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. On the verge of a massive campaign to convert 10% of Sydney to their brand of conservative evangelical Christianity, the financial crisis hit, their investments took a nosedive, they lost over $100 million, and Sydney was saved from a wave of zealous evangelists.

The apparent foolishness of buying at the peak of the market boom and selling at its bottom suggests to me greater forces at work: that God works in mysterious ways, especially among evangelicals. According to Peter Jensen, the archbishop, people have simply been ‘too trusting of one another’ (God forbid, especially in a church).

And Jensen has not only set up a commission to advise on what to do about all this lack of gospel-driven money, but also a prayer group to pray for the comission. This is, he claims, a group of ‘mature Christians’, whose sole task is to ensure that the commission is at every point ‘bathed in the intercessory prayer of these saints‘.

All I want to say is: ‘Peter, my dear simple friend, you may wish to check the content of those prayers, since you are a little too trusting of those “saints”‘.

Quite sensibly and sensitively, if you ask me. At Veliko Tarnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria, the Church of Forty Martyrs was rebuilt during the communist era. The internal artwork looks something like this:

Given that this is a Bulgarian Orthodox church on a very sacred site, the usual iconagraphy would have been traditional and stylised, but not here. Mary and Jesus are much more down-to-earth:

By far the best are the earthy bodies, fully rounded, muscled, sensual:

Not quite the church’s tradition of desexualised bodies from the Bible and the saints …

And ordinary, hard-working people:

I’m not given to spirituality, since it is usually bullshit, but this was one of the most spititual and moving places I have been for a long time.

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