A Russian Orthodox theologian takes a severe look at Communist doctrine
Credo, quia absurdum est“ – Supposedly Tertullian once said. Although one cannot find these exact words in his writings, it is not surprising that they are ascribed to Tertullian – an unbending and uncompromising fanatic, who while fighting for the purity and blamelessness of faith, eventually separated himself from the Church and joined the sect of Montanism.
I recall this saying of Tertullian rather often whenever I see young Russian kids, joining various Communist organizations. A little while ago I saw on Russian TV an interview with the founder of a semi-clandestine Orthodox Marxist group. The boy, about sixteen years old, did not at all leave an impression of an ignoramus or obscurantist. He was well read, intelligent, sharp witted, and had a good sense of humor. However, then he began talking about the organisation of his groups, about underground activity, the armed struggle, the new Revolution, restoring the dictatorship of the proletariat and, finally, about the merciless Terror that will wipe all the enemies of the Progressive Teaching from the face of the Earth. At that moment, his eyes showed such assuredness in his own rightness, in the ultimate truth and inevitable triumph of Marxist dogmata; then one could not help but feel fear and pity for him as a fellow who has turned away from reality, who has deliberately chosen darkness over light and drags his followers there. At a time when Russia finally has been freed from Communism, when all around the world Marxism-Leninism is regarded as a total fiasco, and when it seems that no reasonable person can doubt the complete bankruptcy of such a bloody utopia, at this moment in time a young and intelligent Muscowite speaks about the inevitability of the changes of socio-economic formations, final victory of Communism in all the world, and similar nonsense. Indeed, "Credo, quia absurdum est!”
In fact Marxism-Leninism is a religion in itself. Moreover, we, would definitely classify it as a New Religious Movement. It can be proven by methods of mind control, practiced in Communist parties and the states where these parties gain power. It definitely shows in Communist rites and rituals, feasts and cults of heroes. However, first and foremost it shows in the Marxist doctrine which has all the characteristics of a real catechism. And this aspect I would like too examine in this paper.
Let us look at a historiosophical scenario, which only a few years ago was the only permissible one in the Soviet Union. It was taught in every Soviet school; it was assumed to be The Truth in every Soviet publication; it was supposed to be the basis of the world view not only of every Soviet citizen but of every sane human being. Interestingly enough, when one examines this teaching closely, one cannot help but notice a rather curious correspondence between it and a Christian view of the world and of history. There is only one major difference, though it is all-determining – Marxism can be regarded as Christianity, minus Christ Himself.
In Marxist-Leninist doctrine the concept of Historical Necessity takes the place of God. This Historical Necessity determines the changes of the socio-economical formations by the way of class struggle.
As it should, the history begins in “Paradise” – a collective paradise though – the Marxists term is “Primitive Communism” that is a modus vivendi of the first communities of primeval people. The gates of Paradise are closed after the commission of the original sin. Original sin in the Marxist scenario is the appearance of private property. As one Soviet grammar school textbook explains, the fall occurred when the magical phrase: “This is mine” was uttered for the first time. Paradise was destroyed, and primitive communism came to an end. Human sufferings had begun, brought by private property and, consequently, through the exploitation of man by man.
As we know, however, the fall must promptly be followed by the promise of future redemption. In our Marxist case, philosopher-materialists and the leaders of lower classes’ rebellions replace the teachings and acts of the prophets and forefathers and deliver this promise. Among these heroic figures one finds such personalities as a cut-throat gladiator, a highway robber, and a runaway convict (1); and each one of them, after having headed one form of mutiny or another, turned into a noble and selfless figure of romantic idealism, gentleness, generosity, and irreproachability. Unfortunately for them the sin of private property had not yet been redeemed, and Historic Necessity, did not ultimately allow them to come to power. Each of their rebellions, though remarkably successful at the outset, somehow eventually were crushed, and everything “returned again accoording to its curcuit”.
A self-appointented proletarian poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky has expressed this onward march of history remarkably well in his poem “V.I. Lenin” (2). He vividly describes the inhuman suffering and a hopeless misery of the exploited classes. The only thing that helps people to survive in Mayakovsky’s world is the hope of future deliverance and a sacred revenge which comes with it. “Come, oh, come, defender and avenger”, – cried out the luckless suffering people. “He will come,” – answered the prohet-materialists. The very appearance of these prophet-materialists, just as the change of the socio-economic formations was caused by the same incurruptible and impartial Historical Necessity which in turn was activated by the commission of the original sin. According to the scientific laws of this divine Necessity, each socio-enonomic formation in due time must reach a critical juncture and, under the pressure of the intensified class struggle, to clear the place for the mext formation more progressive than the previous one. Slave owning formation is more progressive than the so-called primitive-communal system, while Feudalism, is more progressive than the former. Naturally, capitalism is still more progressive than feudalism. Capitalism in its turn inevitably must give way to the eminently more progressive socialism, which gradually grows into the complete and real communism. These six formations correspond to the six days of creation. However, there is no seventh day, let along the eighth. Thus, the number chosen is the one that in Judaeo-Christian tradition is seen as the number of imperfection, the number of the Enemy of human kind.
The prophesies of these philosopher-materialists and the aspirations of the leaders of rebellions have culminated in the person and writings of Karl Marx. “Time gave birth to Brother Karl,” – writes Mayakovsky. Like Moses, Brother Karl has established the Old Covenant and founded a covenant community. One also may note that his lifelong friend Frederick Engels, who loved so much to study questions of religion, philosophy and natural history, plays the role of the high priest Aaron.
“Marx discovered the laws of history,” – as Mayakovsky formulates his role. As one should have expected, the private property was named to be the bearer of the metaphysical evil and the reason of all misfortunes. Marx also develops the teaching of the most progressive and vanguard class (the God-chosen People) the proletariat; and he institutes the priesthood, made of (at least theoretically) the most progressive representatives or defenders of the proletariat, by convening the First International. It had its own traitors and rebels. Just as Dathan and Abiram rebelled against Moses and Aaron (3) and were blotted out from the land of the living, so Bakunin rebelled against Marx and Engels and was expelled from the First International.
The canon of the Holy Scriptures then began to be formed. The first phrase in the commandments of Moses begins with God: “I AM the LORD your GOD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (4). The commandments of the new Israel – the proletariat – The Communist Manifesto , on the other hand, begins by referring to a phantom: “A specter is haunting all of Europe, the specter of Communism.” Marx also, according to the Soviet catechism, foretold the advent of the forthcoming Messiah. “He will come, he will come, the great Practician,” repeated good old Karl, as seen by Mayakovsky’s poetic inspiration.
After the death of Karl Marx the leadership of the workers’ movement gradually falls into the hands of so-called opportunists, i.e. the pharisees. The leadership then needs a radical reformation. The Temple of Communism has to be cleansed of merchants and money changers. And thus, the historic necessity gives to the world its saviour, its Messiah. Or, as the visionary Mayakovsky expressed it:
The specter of Communism scoured about Europe,
Sometimes it came near,
Sometimes it loomed from distance again,
That is why in faraway provincial Simbirsk
There was born an ordinary boy – Lenin.
Here Mayakovsky apparantly hints at the blameless birth of Lenin, springing from the wandering ghost of Communism. Historic necessity sent the same specter that inspired Marx and Engels and fanned the salvific flames of class fire to become incarnate in a provincial Russian boy Volodya Ulianov. Thus Lenin is undoubtedly a messianic figure, called to occupy the place of Christ. He is the spirit of Communism, living in a human body. Therefore, in his person there cannot be anything alien to the communist teaching. He cannot sin, he cannot make mistakes; his right to change the Marxist doctrine any way he seems fit and still to remain the only consistent and true Communist cannot be doubted. He is living Marxism and Communism. This also explains a somewhat incomplete incarnation of his iconographic image. The extreme asceticism of his everyday life, the fact that he lacked his own home and had virtually no private life outside of his revolutionary activity, even his biological sterility – all these signs point at the predominance of the ghostly-communist significance to his life over the physical one. Hence, his spiritual affinity with all of his Leninist followers. It is no wonder that he is considered the father of all communists, while the young pioneers and octobryats (5) call him “Granddaddy Lenin”.
After the death of Lenin an attempt was made to reincarnate the spirit of Communism into the body of his faithful disciple and follower Stalin. From the end of the 1920’s, one of the most common epithets used in regard to the Soviet leader war “Stalin is today’s Lenin”. When in 1953 the spirit finally departed from Stalin’s body, Krushchev also attempted to declare himself to be its vessel. However, he was the last claimant of this role. After his political demise these attempts were abandoned, at least in the USSR. For the true Messiah, of course, can be only one in number. His successors can only claim the title of the most faithful Leninist. Thus the idea of the reincarnation proved to be erroneous in practice.
From the very moment Volodya Ulyanov is born his sinlessness, blamelessness and genius are obvious to everybody around him. And from earliest childhood, Lenin himself realizes his lofty calling and his great mission. There was not a second child like him on earth. And could not be.
A Soviet children’s poet Sergei Mikhalkov explains to his young readers:
He dreamed from childhood years
So in his motherland
A man would live by the fruit of his own labour
And would not be enslaved by anyone. (6)
Everybody in the Soviet Union knows the story about 17-year old Lenin, who, after the execution of his brother Sasha (7) is said to have pronounced his sacramental phrase: “We shall take another way!” Since Volodya at that time was not a member of any party, nor did he belong to any organization, one might suppose that either, realising his own extraordinary genius, he refers to himself in the royal “We”, or he is so selfless that he cannot imagine himself outside of the collective. Mikhalkov again and again stresses the superhuman nature of this teenager:
He had just turned seventeen years old,
A mere seventeen;
But he’s a fighter and therefore
The Czar is afraid of him!
It is interesting that the Czar is afraid not of the terrorist Alexander Ulyanov, but of the exemplary high school student Vladimir! Is this not the same way in which King Herod feared the baby Christ? Indeed, again and again, credo, quia absurdum est!
Lenin brings liberation to the worker’s class in one individual country and delivers a promise of redemption for all of humanity. He concludes a New Testament – though not by his own blood, but by the blood of others – and creates a new testament church, a new type of party. Throughout the brief years of his earthly ministry this “most human man” works restlessly and devotes his all being to the cause of service to the working class. As Mayakovsky elegantly puts it: “Ili’ch laid upon his shoulders a daily heroic exploit.”
The death of Lenin is a very relative notion. Everyone in the Soviet Union from infancy was familiar with scores of such slogan-incantations as: “Lenin died, but his cause is alive!”; “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will ever live!”; “Lenin is always alive!”; “Even now Lenin is more alive, than anyone else on Earth!” (8) ... What can be more indicative of this cult than the fact that the corpse of Lenin is still not buried, and that all of the communist leaders of the Soviet Union confirmed their legitimacy by presiding over public rituals while standing on top of the main cult edifice of the System – the Lenin’s tomb!
All his life Lenin was fighting – sometimes alone against the world – for the purity of Marxism, as he understood it, both in its theory and in its practical implications. His own fight as well as the struggle against Trotskism, Zinovievism, Bucharinism, right and left deviations, and other various heresies, which were continued by Stalin after Lenin’s death, reminds one very much of the struggle of the early Church for the purity of the Orthodox teaching.
As does the Church, the communist party has is martyrs, who gave their lives for the cause of the working class, and its saints, which served the Party in an exemplary manner. Their birthdays are marked in Soviet calendars, their “Lives” are included in school programs, their icons grace all official premises, their names are given to factories and institutions, streets and squares, towns and cities. Both children and adults are called to imitate the activities of these communist saints, who, by the way, display characteristics which are quite the opposite of Christian virtues: the bloody butcher Dzerzhinsky (9); the NKVD informer young pioneer Pavlik Morozov, who betrayed and denounced his own father (10), the robber and murderer Kamo, who robbed “tzarist” banks to provide funds for the Communist party (11) — to name just a few ... However, all of these saints in their private lives are distinguished by modesty, honesty, ascetiscism, and boundless faithfulness to the communist idea, in short, the most commendable qualities.
As in the Church, the communist party is proclaimed sinless and blameless as a whole, in spite of some possible minor deviations of its leaders. One could say that the Party has inherited the blamelessness of its founder together with his incorruptible body. The communist party, in a way, is a part of the kingdom to come present in this world. This kingdom, or should we say, republic to come, is communism.
The communist eschatology is modelled after a Christian example as well. The advent of communism will close the circle, conclude the historical process and terminate the change of the socio-economical formations. People will be perfect and happy, and science will completely conquer nature and will master all its processes. There shall be no pain, illness or sorrow, and life will be many times longer than it is now. People will live until they are completely oversatiated with life, and then, tired but happy, they will depart with gladness into the oblivion and nothingness.
These are the main postulates of the popular cathechism of the Soviet Communism. It is observed that they were modelled after a Christian view of the world and history. Indeed, the Marxist-Leninist religion is Christianity without Christ. However, since Jesus Christ is the Truth, Life, Goodness, Beauty, Wisdom, Freedom and Life, in getting rid of Him, the Marxist religion got rid of all these things and turned into a pitiful surrogate of the faith, founded upon hatred, lies, violence, and the struggle of everybody against everybody. And those of us, who were born on the other side of the Iron Curtain, know what happens when a new religious movement comes to power.
It is a religion that substituted the living God with a blind historic necessity, which determines the change of some fictitious formations. It is a religion that deprives the individual human being and his life of any importance whatsoever, and pays attention only to the abstract notion of classes. It is a religion that began with a quest after a phantom and that is based upon necrolatry – the worship of a corpse. It is a religion, whose ministers drowned the biggest country in the world in a sea of blood and brought the richest country in the world to utmost poverty and misery. It is a religion that demands from its adherents blind, complete and unconditional faith, along the total submissiveness and obedience. It is a religion, founded upon slavery and totally devoid of freedom. It is a religion that has bloodily enforced upon nearly half of Earth population the most extensive experiment of mind alteration and dehumanization in human history. It is a religion of lies, falsehood and deceit, and it is well known to Christians since the Saviour refers to it as the father of lies. And of cause, the true inspiration of Communism shows in its uncompromising violent persecution of Christianity – a perscution that in 70 years created many times more martyrs than all of the tyrants in all of the human history before that have created.
Contrary to the saying ascribed to Tertullian, Christians do not have to believe in absurd things. Christ said to His disciples: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (12)
It is so unfortunate that there are still people whose hearts are corrupted by the demonic lie of Communism, and who turn away from the Truth, Goodness, Love, Beauty, and Life, or even from common sense, while choosing the path of hatred, lies and death!
1) For example Spartacus (73-71 B.C.), Stephan Razin (1670-1710 A.D.), Emelian Pugachev (1173-75)
2) In the present article all quotations from Mayakovsky come from this poem.
3) Numbers, 16:1.
4) Exodus, 20:2.
5) Youth communist organization in the USSR; respectively for children of 9-14 and 8-9.
6) S. Mikhalkov, Muzei Lenina.
7) Alexander Ulyanov was executed in 1887 for an attempt of the assassination of the Emperor Alexander III.
8) The last slogan is taken from the same poem of Mayakovsky.
9) The founder and the first chief of Cheka (later NKVD, later GPU, later MVD, later KGB).
10) His father was shot by NKVD.
11) Kamo (his real name was Simon Ter-Petrosyan) organised and undertook his most famous “exploits” together with young Georgian revolutionary Josef Jugashvili, who later became known as Stalin.
12) John, 8:32.
Alexander Dvorkin is now a professor of Church history in Moscow. In his youth he was an unhappy hippie in Russia, and the “System” caught him and deported him to the West. He managed to get to the US, where he became a Christian and began his studies of theology at St. Vladimir in New York.After the fall of the wall – and the Commuist system – he returned and engaged himself in the renewal of the Russian Orthodox Church. His critique of the cults and sects have caused him much trouble. But he goes on as the leader of the St. Irenæus Center in Moscow, which is a partner within the Dialog Center International. His wife, Irina Dvorkina, is his support and inspiration.