Lectures at Xiangtan and Nankai Universities

Over the next few days I will be holding forth in Xiangtan University (in Mao’s birthplace) and then Nankai University (Tianjin). For those who may be attending, the abstracts:

Xiangtan University
‘The Need for a "Warm Stream" in Marxism’

Marxism is well known for its two components: a ‘cold stream’ which concerns objective scientific analysis; and a ‘warm stream’ that concerns enthusiasm and hope and leads to commitment to Marxism as a cause. One appeals to the mind, the other appeals to the heart. We may understand these two components as being in a dialectical relationship with one another. They are distinct, yet they necessarily interact to produce the richness of Marxism. This lecture argues that at times the ‘cold stream’ prevails, with objective scientific analysis becoming dominant. This may lead to stagnation in Marxism and fail to inspire those who wish to identify with Marxism. Yet, at those times we find that the renewal of Marxism comes from the ‘warm stream’, with efforts to bring enthusiasm and hope back into Marxism. In order to illustrate this argument, I examine some historical moments in the history of Marxism when such renewal has taken place: the work of Anatoly Lunacharsky before the Russian Revolution; Ernst Bloch in Western Marxism; and the development of eco-socialism in our own day. I close by considering President Xi Jiping’s recent calls in China for a recovery of ‘faith’ in socialism.

Nankai University
‘Marxism and Religion Reconsidered in a Chinese Context’

This lecture argues that Marxism brings about both the end and transformation of religion. The word that captures both senses – end and transformation – is the almost untranslatable German term Aufhebung. How does this transformation work? I focus on three key moments: Marx, Engels, and Mao. First, Marx takes the idea of the fetish and turns it into the central idea for his analysis of capitalism. The fetish is originally a religious idea that indicates the transfer of human properties to objects. Marx transforms this idea to understand the core of capitalism. Second, Engels develops his own transformation of religion. This was his life-long project of finding the revolutionary dimensions of religion. Above all, he came to argue that Christianity was originally a revolutionary movement. Third, I consider a very different transformation – that of Mao Zedong. In this case, the transformation takes place initially with two ideas: datong and taiping (the Great Harmony and the Great Peace), both originally from the Confucian tradition but radically recast in the Taiping Revolution of the 19th century. That is, the evolutionary idea of the Great Harmony – the final stage of three in world development – comes into contact with revolutionary Christianity in the Taiping Revolution. It was precisely this revolution that provided significant inspiration for Mao’s own sinification of Marxism.


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