My regular monthly piece on Culture Matters is now up, simply called ‘Jesus and Marx‘.
Here Lenin is compared to the ‘rock of salvation’ of Christianity:
The fact that Russia, which was formerly regarded by the oppressed nationalities as a symbol of oppression, has now, after it has become socialist, been transformed into a symbol of emancipation, cannot be called an accident. Nor is it an accident that the name of the leader of the October Revolution, Comrade Lenin, is now the most beloved name pronounced by the downtrodden, oppressed peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia of the colonial and unequal countries. In the past, the oppressed and downtrodden slaves of the vast Roman Empire regarded Christianity as a rock of salvation. We are now reaching the point where socialism may serve (and is already beginning to serve!) as the banner of liberation for the millions who inhabit the vast colonial states of imperialism (Stalin, Works, Vol. V, p. 354).
Earlier, I noted some reflections from the young Mao on Jesus, only to come across yet more. He begins by noting Confucius’s famous observation: ‘The superior man wishes to be slow in speech and earnest in conduct’. But then he goes against the sage:
If one person who has obtained a pearl and another who owns half a jade disk do not engage in mutual questioning and interaction, how can they broaden their knowledge and achieve erudition? Perhaps this is what is known as inviting offense with speech. But even so, speech cannot be discarded because it can cause transgression, just as food cannot be discarded simply because it can cause one to choke. Furthermore, he who speaks does not necessarily transgress, and even if he does transgress, this is but a small matter to a wise man. Jesus was dismembered for speaking out, Long and Bi were executed for speaking out. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, pp. 72-73).
Crucifixion does not seem to have been an ancient Chinese practice, although dismemberment and disembowelment were (the latter being the fate of Guan Longxian and Bi Gan, who opposed the brutal Zhou Xiu in the twelfth century). Apart from the angle on Jesus, I am intrigued by the way he already draws on eastern and western dimensions in his thought, which was a feature of his later practice.
Someone said, ‘I see, in history, some great men did not regret even the sacrifice of their own lives and families.’ The sages and worthies who wanted to save the world have acted thus, such as Confucius (at Chen and at Kuang), Jesus (who died on the cross), and Socrates (who took poison).
A saying goes like this: ‘When a strong soldier’s hand was bitten by a poisonous snake, he had to sever his wrist, not because he did not love his wrist, but because if he had not cut it off, he could not have saved his own body. A benevolent man looks at the whole world and the whole of humanity as his body, and considers one individual and one family as his wrist. Because he loves the whole world so much he dares not love himself and his family more. If he can save the whole world, even if it costs his own life and that of his family, he is at peace about it. (A benevolent man seeks to remove the suffering of all those living under heaven, so that they may be saved.) (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, p. 22)
Looks like I will need a chapter on Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? in my Lenin and Theology book. Up until this work of 1902, I have found scattered biblical allusions in Lenin’s work and some occasionally entertaining reflections on the church, but in this thoroughly engaging text I hit pay dirt. What Is To Be Done? is saturated with biblical references, drawn especially from the Gospels and the sayings and parables of Jesus. For example, in the crucial section concerning organisation of the workers and of revolutionaries, we find:
It is precisely our campaign of exposure that will help us separate the tares from the wheat. What the tares are, we have already indicated. By the wheat we mean attracting the attention of ever larger numbers of the workers to social and political questions … In a word, our task is to fight the tares. It is not our business to grow wheat in flowerpots. By pulling up the tares, we clear the soil for the wheat. And while the Afanasy Ivanoviches and Pulkheria Ivanovas are tending their flowerpot crops, we must prepare the reapers, not only to cut down the tares of today, but to reap the wheat of tomorrow. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, pp. 455-6.
This parable, along with that of the sower, becomes an extended metaphor throughout this crucial section. What happens in the process is not merely that Lenin draws upon Gospel themes for thinking through revolutionary organisation, but that the sayings and parables themselves become radicalised.