While having a great time at the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar in a cool Dunedin, I cam across this definition of socialist prophecy from you know who:

As you see, this is almost a prediction. (A voice: “Yes, almost!”) It is almost a prophecy of the true Marxist type, a forecast for two whole months ahead. (Laughter.) (Stalin, Works, volume 8, page 370).

In response to greetings from the Tiflis Railway Workshops, Stalin tries to hose down all of the adulation:

I must say in all conscience, comrades, that I do not deserve a good half of the flattering things that have been said here about me. I am, it appears, a hero of the October Revolution, the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the leader of the Communist International, a legendary warrior-knight and all the rest of it. That is absurd, comrades, and quite unnecessary exaggeration. It is the sort of thing that is usually said at the graveside of a departed revolutionary. But I have no intention of dying yet. (Works, volume 8, page 182)

By the second half of the 1920s, Stalin’s attention turned to the unfolding revolution in China. He is quite clear that it should be as much, if not centrally, an agrarian revolution of peasants, along with the relatively small working class (the idea of turning to the peasants was not merely Mao’s original idea). In the midst of one of his pieces on China, Stalin offers an insightful assessment of the English (he uses the strange term ‘British’) Labour Party:

Let us, for the sake of greater clarity, take the “Workers’ Party” in Britain (the “Labour Party”). We know that there is in Britain a special party of the workers that is based on the trade unions of the factory and office workers. No one hesitates to call it a workers’ party. It is called that not only in British, but in all other Marxist literature. But can it be said that this party is a real workers’ party, a class party of the workers, standing in opposition to the bourgeoisie? Can it be said that it is actually the party of one class, the working class, and not a party, say, of two classes? No, it cannot. Actually, the Labour Party in Britain is the party of a bloc of the workers and the urban petty bourgeoisie. Actually, it is the party of a bloc of two classes. And if it is asked whose influence is stronger in this party, that of the workers, who stand in opposition to the bourgeoisie, or that of the petty bourgeoisie, it must be said that the influence of the petty bourgeoisie predominates in this party. That indeed explains why the British Labour Party is actually an appendage of the bourgeois liberal party. (Works, volume 9, pages 253-54)

One of the more fascinating aspects of reading carefully through Stalin’s writings is what may be called the scriptural dynamic of spirit and letter. As 2 Corinthians 3:6 puts it, ‘the letter kills, but the spirit gives life’. Stalin is clearly on the side of the spirit in interpreting the texts of Marx and Lenin. Thus, Marx’s thought applies to emerging capitalism, while Lenin’s thought is Marxism in the age of imperialism. To emphasise his approach, he tells a story provided by Swedish socialists:

It was at the time of the sailors’ and soldiers’ revolt in the Crimea. Representatives of the navy and army came to the Social-Democrats and said: “For some years past you have been calling on us to revolt against tsarism. Well, we are now convinced that you are right, and we sailors and soldiers have made up our mints to revolt and now we have come to you for advice.” The Social-Democrats became flurried and replied that they couldn’t decide the question of a revolt without a special conference. The sailors intimated that there was no time to lose, that everything was ready, and that if they did not get a straight answer from the Social-Democrats, and if the Social-Democrats did not take over the direction of the revolt, the whole thing might collapse. The sailors and soldiers went away pending instructions, and the Social-Democrats called a conference to discuss the matter. They took the first volume of Capital, they took the second volume of Capital, and then they took the third volume of Capital, looking for some instruction about the Crimea, about Sevastopol, about a revolt in the Crimea. But they could not find a single, literally not a single instruction in all three volumes of Capital either about Sevastopol, or about the Crimea, or about a sailors’ and soldiers’ revolt. They turned over the pages of other works of Marx and Engels, looking for instructions—but not a single instruction could they find. What was to be done? Meanwhile the sailors had come expecting an answer. Well, the Social-Democrats had to confess that under the circumstances they were unable to give the sailors and soldiers any instructions. “And so the sailors’ and soldiers’ revolt collapsed.” (Works, volume 9, pages 97-98)

Christianity is the real loser in the Hong Kong protests of the last few months. It has become clear that some Christian groups continue to be at the forefront in organising and supporting the protests. The groups are mostly of a Protestant evangelical variety, but they include some Roman Catholic leaders. Others are opposed, producing sharp divisions within the churches. But those who foster the protests have also been providing a dimension of the theoretical justification for the protests, especially through biblical interpretation. This is not a recent development. These groups have been active since the restitution of a stolen Hong Kong to China in 1997. Over almost two decades they have engaged in low-level protests, brought in outside advisors, engaged in extensive organisational efforts to link the various organisations, and sought to develop a theological framework for their efforts.

Their efforts have been detrimental to Christianity, particularly in a Chinese situation. There are three main reasons.

Colonial Christianity

The Hong Kong protests have confirmed the connection between Christianity and colonialism. In Chinese collective memory, Christianity is primarily seen as a colonial ideology (yang jiao). It is associated with the humiliation of China in the nineteenth century, at the hands of European colonial powers. The gunboats of the British Empire, which imposed a semi-colonial status on China, also carried with them Christian missionaries. The opium wars, the destruction of the summer palace in Beijing, the imposition of unfavourable conditions, and the religious ideology of a foreign empire – these and more became signals of that humiliation.

Some missionaries did much good, seeking to understand China, to introduce its culture and history to Europeans, and undertaking translations of classical Chinese texts. Yet most were seen as ideological agents of British colonialism.

This memory has overlaid other and more beneficial dimensions of Christianity. Thus, the efforts by Matteo Ricci in the sixteenth century have been eclipsed. His efforts to develop a form of Roman Catholic Christianity – ‘with Chinese characteristics’ – no longer determine the perception of Christianity. Further, very few are aware of the development of a Chinese Christian materialism. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a number of leading Chinese Christians – W. T. Wu, W. T. Chu and Wu Leichuan – sought to engage with Marxism. They developed unique formulations that were specifically concerned with a Chinese situation. Forgotten too is the significant assistance given to the Red Army during the Long March (1934-1935) by Christian groups.

Instead, the colonial connection dominates Chinese perceptions. And the Hong Kong protestors have reinforced that impression. The active support of the protests by the UK and the USA – by means of statements and the presence of personnel to advise and assist the protestors – makes that impression difficult to deny.

Threat to Social Harmony

A central plank of Chinese government policy is a harmonious society. It may not aspire to the near utopian Confucian image of the Datong, the Great Harmony in which social strife gives way to a harmonious mediation between opposites. But the government has expressed quite clearly the desire for xiaokang, the less ambitious aim of general prosperity, peace and relative harmony. Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ is a more recent development of this theme.

Recent statements concerning the different religions in China have emphasised this desire for harmony. The China Committee on Religion and Peace regularly encourages religious leaders and believers to contribute to ‘building a moderately prosperous society in all respects’. This entails both religious freedom in accordance with Chinese law, and guiding religious groups to adapt to a socialist society. Tellingly, this policy also explicitly seeks to withstand ‘the infiltration of overseas-based hostile forces that make use of religion’.

Christianity and Liberal Democracy

Above all, the Hong Kong protests have cemented the perceived connection between some forms of Christianity and liberal (or bourgeois) democracy. A key slogan of the protests is ‘one person, one vote’, which sounds innocent enough. They also demand no restrictions on the candidates for elections in Hong Kong. Again, that sounds to an outside observer reasonable enough.

The catch is that most Chinese are not interested in liberal or bourgeois democracy. Again and again, I hear from people in China that they have seen how liberal democracy works, with its in-built corruption, its advertising campaigns, its policy inertia, its blocking out of real alternatives, and its significant restrictions as to who may vote. Thus, when President Xi Jinping says that liberal democracy is not appropriate for Chinese conditions, he is expressing a generally held opinion and not some evil desire by the Communist Party to retain its hold on the reins of power. China has tried various approaches, he points out: ‘Constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, a multi-party system and a presidential system, we considered them, tried them, but none worked’. And if they were to try liberal democracy, it would lead to chaos and catastrophe. Instead, what works in China is the long tradition of socialist democracy.

As Suzanne Ogden points out in her study of Chinese governance, for the Chinese leadership and most Chinese people, ‘the insistence on democratization for all, and right now, has led to a clichéd intoning of the words freedom, human rights, and democracy, which provide ever more ragged clothing for the export of formulaic Western political values throughout the world’.

After the Hong Kong protests, the Chinese government may well view many forms of Christianity with greater suspicion. The connection with Western colonialism, the threat to social harmony, and the linking of Christianity with bourgeois democracy, may well ensure that this is the case. I hope that this is not the case. I hope that research centres and projects on Christianity and the Bible will continue to be funded, that churches will continue to be approved and be built with government funds, and that the Christian churches will continue to explore creative ways to be part of the Chinese project.

Most people would probably not know that the Communist Party of the USSR (Bolshevik) also had a policy on amputation. Stalin elaborates on the policy in 1925:

We are against amputation. We are against the policy of amputation. That does not mean that leaders will be permitted with impunity to give themselves airs and ride roughshod over the Party. No, excuse us from that. There will be no obeisances to leaders. (Voices: “Quite right!” Applause.) We stand for unity, we are against amputation. The policy of amputation is abhorrent to us. (Works, volume 7, p. 401)

Stalin may not have had the acerbic edge of Lenin’s letter style, but he prided himself on going straight to the point. With that in mind, here is a letter template from Stalin, drawing upon various phrases from his correspondence:

Comrade …,

I am very late in replying. You have a right to be angry with me, but you must bear in mind that I am unusually remiss as regards letters and correspondence in general. Don’t scold me for being straightforward and blunt concerning your report. Yes, comrade, I am straightforward and blunt; that’s true, I don’t deny it!

It is very praiseworthy that you should have wanted to use your own brains. But just look at the result: on the peace issue you used your own brains, and came a cropper; then in the trade-union discussion you again tried to use your own brains, and again you came a cropper; and now, I do not know whether you are using your own brains or borrowing someone else’s, but it appears that you have come a cropper this time too. I have a notion that certain comrades are not all there in their upper storeys.

Although this fantastic report needs no refutation because of its obvious absurdity, nevertheless, perhaps it will not be superfluous to state that this report is a gross mistake and must be attributed entirely to the author’s imagination. Why, then, do you continue to circulate all kinds of nonsense and fable?

In short, your report is a frightful dream, but thank God only a dream.

Instead, you should emphasise that our country can and must become a land of metal. After all, the party has been forged out of hard steel and tempered in battle. Without such an approach, our work will become meaningless, criminal and futile, which will give us the right, or rather will force us, to go anywhere, even to the devil himself.

In closing, comrade, let me say that I do not undertake to prophecy.

God grant us a new year every day!

With communist greetings,

J. V. Stalin

(from Works, vol. 4, p. 288; vol. 5, pp. 100-1, 226, 386; vol. 6, pp. 36, 201, 285; vol 7, pp. 47, 133, 191-92, 372-73)

Stalin writing 01