It was of course the constitution of the USSR. The constitution of 1924 contains this crucial declaration, indicating that one of the key factors involved ethnic diversity (or what it likes to call the ‘national question’):

The will of the peoples of the Soviet republics, who recently assembled at their Congresses of Soviets and unanimously resolved to form a “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” is a reliable guarantee that this Union is a voluntary association of peoples enjoying equal rights, that each republic is guaranteed the right of freely seceding from the Union, that admission to the Union is open to all Socialist Soviet Republics, whether now existing or hereafter to arise, that the new union state will prove to be a worthy crown to the foundation for the peaceful co-existence and fraternal co-operation of the peoples that was laid in October 1917, and that i t will serve as a sure bulwark against world capitalism and as a new and decisive step towards the union of the working people of all countries into a World Socialist Soviet Republic (Stalin, Works 5, p. 404).

A constitution is always a work in progress, so the 1936 version (sponsored by Stalin) extended affirmative action to women, religion, education and so on:

Article 122. Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.

Article 123. Equality of rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R., irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life, is an indefeasible law. Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of, or, conversely, any establishment of direct or indirect privileges for, citizens on account of their race or nationality, as well as any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.

Article 124. In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.

Incidentally, article 124, which Stalin included in the face of stiff opposition, eventually led to the rapprochement between Stalin and the church during and after the Second World War. The church petitioned for churches to be re-opened, religious personnel to be admitted to jobs, and religious candidates ran in the 1937 legislative elections.

By 1977, the revised constitution summed up the affirmative action position as follows:

Article 34. Citizens of the USSR are equal before the law, without distinction of origin, social or property status, race or nationality, sex, education, language, attitude to religion, type and nature of occupation, domicile, or other status.

The equal rights of citizens of the USSR are guaranteed in all fields of economic, political, social, and cultural life.

Article 35. Women and men have equal rights in the USSR.

Exercise of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration, and promotion, and in social and political, and cultural activity, and by special labour and health protection measures for women; by providing conditions enabling mothers to work; by legal protection, and material and moral support for mothers and children, including paid leaves and other benefits for expectant mothers and mothers, and gradual reduction of working time for mothers with small children.

Article 36. Citizens of the USSR of different races and nationalities have equal rights.

Exercise of these rights is ensured by a policy of all-round development and drawing together of all the nations and nationalities of the USSR, by educating citizens in the spirit of Soviet patriotism and socialist internationalism, and by the possibility to use their native language and the languages of other peoples in the USSR.

Any direct or indirect limitation of the rights of citizens or establishment of direct or indirect privileges on grounds of race or nationality, and any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness, hostility, or contempt, are punishable by law.

Needless to say, constitutions express certain ideals that are not are always practised in reality, but in its initial articulation it was the first affirmative action constitution in the world.

Shameless self-promotion: the left-wing group at Iştirakî have recently published a Turkish translation of an article of mine on Lenin and religion. It appears as ‘Lenin ve Din.’ If you read Turkish, get yourself over to this site, since they are interested in material on all matters of the Left in relation to the Middle East (southwest Asia).

An exciting new kid on the block: POPCAANZ (Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand)

Call for Papers (due 1 April):

Papers that explore popular culture and the everyday in relation to issues of religion and secularism are invited for the Religion Area at POPCAANZ’s Annual Conference. The conference will take place June 24-26, 2013 in Brisbane Australia.

Please submit a 200-word abstract and short bio to: religion@popcaanz.com by 1 April.

For further information go to the conference website: http://popcaanz.com/conference-information-2013/

Goelet (1999) writes of ancient Egypt:

By now it is a well-worn truism among Egyptologists that the Egyptians were intensely religious, yet had no word corresponding to our term ‘religion’; that they had a highly developed aesthetic sense, yet had no single word for ‘art’; that they ran a stable, complex, and highly bureaucratic society, yet had no equivalent to the term ‘the state’. The common theme behind all these observations is that we frequently fail to realize that the Egyptians might have viewed the world entirely differently from the way we do.

He goes on the discuss what a ‘town’ or ‘city’ might mean, suggesting that the settlement was really an afterthought to a temple and a quay on the Nile.

A couple of days I ago I had a thoroughly enjoyable, comradely and fiery discussion with a militant icon of the Left in Australia, the 70-something Carole Ferrier. In reply to her accusation that I am a pseudo-Marxist, I told her she was full of old-fashioned, economist and crude understandings of religion. I guess there are still those who feel that religion is simply an obfuscation, a mystification used by the ruling class to further its exploitation (in short, Althusser’s ‘cynical priests’).  Pity really. But it also struck me that many Marxists are perfectly happy being in opposition. Any successful revolution – of which there are many – is simply a betrayal of the ideal, romanticised revolution that never comes. This is of course a position particularly endemic among Trotskyites, even though Trotsky himself (as Lunacharsky noted) always acted with one eye on the mirror of history. Here Lenin’s criticism of the various Mensheviks, liberals and assorted others is worth remembering: ‘Away, away! Let this cup of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship pass from me!’ (Collected Works, vol. 8, p. 288).

Of course, on saying farewell, I gave a Carole a hug and said ‘Keep the faith!’ She growled and said, ‘I ain’t got no f&@kin’ faith’. Love her all the same.

Another piece in my ‘Letters from the Road’ over at Political Theology.

I have just received word that my book, Cave Droppings: Nick Cave and Religion (completed on the Trans-Siberian) will come out with Equinox in their ‘Popular Music History‘ series. Chris Partridge tells me some designer whizz, who also does CD covers, is getting to work on the cover.

So I guess a Table of Contents is in order:

Introduction

Chapter One: Searching the Holy Books

Synopsis: Nick Cave and the Bible

The Life of Nick

The ‘Word’ of Cave

Conclusion, or, Strategies of Containment

Chapter Two: The Total Depravity of Cave’s Literary World

Cave World

That House on the Edge of Town

A Slug of White Jesus

Rain in the Valley

Bible

Lamentations of Woe

The Calling of Eschatological Madness

Conclusion: The Dialectic of Redemptive Depravity

Chapter Three: Some Routine Atrocity, or, Apocalyptic

Three Modes

God’s Anger: The Flood

Murder, Mayhem and Atrocity

Glimpses of Redemption

Conclusion

Chapter Four: Death

From Form to Content: The Sinister Song

Death Inflicted

Death Suffered

Individual Annihilation

Collective Destruction

Death Overcome

Conclusion: Death Is Not the End?

Chapter Five: God, Pain and the Love Song

Secular Soppy Songs: No Pain, No God

Painlessly Divine: No Pain, With God

Painfully Secular: With Pain, No God

Brutally Divine: With Pain, With God

Chapter Six: Jesus of the Moon, or, Christology

Volume and Noise

Sex and Seduction

Heresy

Conclusion

Chapter Seven: Hearing Round Corners: Nick Cave Meets Ernst Bloch

Hearing around corners

Concerning the Wandering Path of the Note, or, Forms of the Song

Anarchy …

… and Discordancy

Transition

Hymn (and Lament)

Sinister Song

Dialectical Song

Voice

Conclusion: The Dialectics of Theo-Utopian Hearing

Conclusion: Gates to the Garden: The Search for Redemption