Christianity and the Social Revolution

From Karl Polanyi
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Table of Contents

Part I - Socialism in Historical Christianity

  • I. The Good Life - Wystan Auden
    • I. The Politic of the Gospels
    • II. The Means of Realisation
    • III. The Political Mind
    • IV. Psychology and Religion
    • V. Communism and Psychology
    • VI. Communism and Religion
    • VII. The Christian Dilemma
  • II. Jesus - Conrad Noel
    • I. The World Plan of Jesus
    • II. The Temptations
    • III. The Social Gospel of the Old Testament
    • IV. The Gospel of the Kingdom
    • V. Jesus, Militant
  • III. The Jesus of History - John Lewis
    • I. Jesus or Christ
    • II. Loss and Gain
    • III. The Apocalyptic Jesus
    • IV. Marxism and Apocalyptic
    • V. Jesus' Quarrel with the Church
    • VI. The Christ of the Mystery Cults
  • IV. The Early Church - Gilbert Clive Binyon
    • I. The Church and the Pagan World
    • II. The Creed-Gospel and the Social Problem
    • III. Christianity and the Old Testament
    • IV. The Hope of Divine Interventions
    • V. The Aloofness of the Church
    • VI. The Church To-day
  • V. Communism in the Middle Age - R. Pascal
    • I. Economic and Political Determinants of Medieval Communism
    • II. Religious Communism
    • III. The Peasant Risings
    • IV. Conclusion
  • VI. Laud, the Levellers, and the Virtuosi - Joseph Needham
    • I. Seventeenth-Century England
    • II. The Laudian Divines
    • III. The Levellers
    • IV. The Virtuosi
    • V. The Rise of Mechanistic Economics
    • VI. Conclusion
  • VII. Christian Socialism in England in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries - Gilbert Clive Binyon
    • I. Socialism's Need of the Christian Philosophy
    • II. Christian Socialists
    • III. Recent Christian Social Movements
    • IV. Christian Sociology
    • V. Conlusion

Part II - Communism and Religion

  • I. The Early Development of Marx's Thought - John Macmurray
    • I. Introduction
    • II. The Transition from “Idea“ to Actuality
    • III. Development of a Dialectical Sociology
    • IV. Bourgeois Democracy
    • V. The “Earthly and the “Heavenly” Citizenship
    • VI. The Economic Factor
  • II. What Communism Stands for - John Cornford
    • I. Primitive and Contemporary Communism Contrasted
    • II. Why Capitalism Declines
    • III. The Period Permanent Crisis and War
    • IV. The Limitation of Production under Capitalism
    • V. The Historic Mission of the Working Class
    • VI. The Rise of Scientific Socialism
    • VII. The Character of Reorganised Society
    • VIII. The Capitalist State and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat
    • IX. The Pre-Conditions of Revolution
  • III. Communism and Religion - Ivan Levisky
    • I. Comparative Religion
    • II. Religion and Science
    • III. The Metaphysical Basis of Communism
    • IV. Bourgeois Rationalism
    • V. Religion in Russia
    • VI. Is Communism a Religion?
    • VII. Religion in the West
    • VIII. Catholicism, Communism and the Masses
    • IX. Reformism in the Church
    • X. The Incompatibility of Marxism and Christianity
    • XI. Conclusion
  • IV. Christianity and Communism in the Light of the Russian Revolution - Julius F. Hecker
    • I. The Approach of the Problem
    • II. The Disintegration of the Russian Orthodox Church
    • III. Efforts at Rejuvenating the Orthodox Church under Communism
    • IV. Nonconformity and Communism
    • V. The Communist Point of View on the Problem
    • VI. What in Place of Religion?
  • V. Communism and Morality
    • I. Morals and History
    • II. Property
    • III. Sex and Marriage after the Revolution
    • IV. The Class Struggle
    • V. Some Problems of Transition
    • VI. Man the Measure

Part III - Dies Irae

I. The Essence of Fascism - Karl Polanyi

    • I. Fascist Anti-Individualism
    • II. Atheist and Christian Individualism
    • III. The Solutions
    • IV. “Soul” versus Mind
    • V. Spann, Hegel and Marx
    • VI. Klages, Nietzsche and Marx
    • VII. Racialism and Mysticism
    • VIII. Vitalism Victorious
    • IX. The Sociology of Fascism

II. Moral Sanctions and the Social Function or Religion - Bruno Meier

    • I. Calvinists, Baptists, and the Ascetic Motives
    • II. Legalism and a Corrupt Social Order
    • III. The Pessimistic-Idealistic Attitude
    • IV. Positivism and Non-Religious Moralism
    • V. Religion and the Social Movement

III. Science, Religion and Socialism - Joseph Needham

    • I. Introduction
    • II. The Position of the Scientific Worker
    • III. The Treason of the Scholars
    • IV. The Concept of the Kingdom
    • V. Philosophy, History, Science, Art and Religion
    • VI. Against Philosophy and Science
    • VII. Against Art and History
    • VIII. Against and Religion
    • IX. Scientific Opium
    • X. “Christianity Theology the Grandmother of Bolshevism”

IV. Christian Politics and Communist Religion - Reinhold Niebuhr

    • I. Introduction
    • II. The Inadequacy of Christian Politics
    • III. Communism as a Religion
    • IV. Towards a Christian Political Ethic

V. Communism the Heir to the Christian Tradition - John Lewis

    • I. Priest and Prophet
    • II. Secular and Sacred
    • III. Religion and Science
    • IV. Religion and Reform
    • V. Dualism in Philosophy and Religion
    • VI. The Economic Basis of Dualism
    • VII. Rationalism and Irrationalism in Ethics
    • VIII. Transition
    • IX. Apocalyptic

VI. Christianity and Communism: Towards a Synthesis - John Macmurray

[…] [509] Christianity breeds Liberalism, Liberalism breeds Socialism, and Socialism breeds Communism. Fascism, therefore, thought it might be compatible with some form of religion, and may stand in need of some religious movement to support its claims, cannot look to any form of Christianity for support.


[511] To be compatible with a truly Socialist form of society, modern Christianity would have to submit to a reformation comparable only with the one which closed the medieval epoch. The synthesis of modern Christianity and modern Communism which I believe to be not merely possible, but urgently necessary in the interests of both, as well as of humanity, could leave neither unaltered.


[512] Because it is a religion, and is rooted in the eternal aspect of human life, Christianity has a substance which is independent of the temporary forms of social organization through which it expresses itself. It has existed, and does exist, under all the forms of social organization of the historic period, though it tends to their transformation. It has persisted throughout the series of revolutionary transformations, unique in human history, which constitutes the progress of European civilization. It is itself the major source of developing consciousness which has made this progress possible. It has assisted at the transition from one stage to another, and the transition has always involved into his own transformation. Christianity has therefore behind it a long experience of self-transformation, which is bound up with general social change. On the strength of this experience any Christian would be justified in expecting that, in the transition from a capitalist to a socialist order of society, Christianity itself would necessarily undergo profound changes of form, and that those changes would involve a rediscovery of its own inherent substance. But the teaching of Christianity, from the beginning, has shown itself aware of the danger of compromise with the organisation of worldly power. The New Testament, while promising that one day the Kingdom of Heaven would come, with power, on earth, enjoined upon all its adherents the policy of keeping themselves separate from the world, and of refusing the temptation to achieve worldly power and influence even as a means to establishing the new society. The Church was to bear to witness to the new order that was to take the place of the existing order in the fullness of time, and in the interim to abstain carefully from any alliance with the established powers which would compromise its witness. […] [513] The [Christian] may even feel certain that it is ready for destruction, and that the new form of his religion which will arise in the new order of Socialist society will find that new order much more compatible with its own teaching than any that has preceded it. […] This view, moreover, is strengthened by the historical connection and the similarity of content between Christian and Communist social doctrine.

[514] The core of the Communist view of religion is the conception that religion is essentially idealist, and that idealism is inherently dualist. This dualism is natural and inevitable in any form of human society except the Communist form.


[516] When the historic task facing a society is a revolutionary self-transformation, when the advance in man’s control of the conditions of his life has reached a point at which a new form of society will mean a lessening of the discrepancy between his actual life and his essential nature, then any influence which tends to divert men’s minds from the effort to carry this task through is to be deplored, and becomes a strong weapon in the hands of any section of society which is interested in preventing the change from being made. To this we must add that, when the point in [517] the development of human society is reached at which the mastery of the conditions of life is sufficient to allow of a form of social life which corresponds with the essential nature of humanity, there will no longer be a need for diverting men’s minds from the actual life they lead to an ideal world. The social need for an escape-mechanism will have disappeared. For the Communist this means that religion ceases to have any social function with the establishment of a Communist order of society.

The crux of this view of religion lies in the implication that religion can only perform its consolatory function through dualism.

[522] conjunction with his study of the process of economic development, to show that the discrepancy between the formal and the substantial structure of society could not be maintained beyond a certain point, but must in the long run produce a revolution which would bring them into harmony.

[526] [The Communist] is wrong in thinking that religion is necessarily to an "other world" of superhuman experience. That is merely the perversion of religion through dualism. The true reference of religion is to the field of direct human relationships, and these are as much a part of ordinary social experience as any other. Indeed, they are its human core. The Christian is right in holding that a merely economic interpretation of human society is like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. It denies the core of human experience. […] Religion must reject supernaturalism, and refer its ideal truth to the world of material reality, or be destroyed by the organised material injustice to which it turns a blind eye.

But if religion rejects supernaturalism, must it not reject God and cease to be religion? Not at all. Either God is natural or religion is nonsense. The idea of Nature which excludes God is itself the product of dualism. God is no more supernatural than Matter. Both are infinites, and lie beyond all their finite manifestations. God is infinite personality; and personality dissociated from matter in idea is purely ideal – that is to say, non-existent. God is real; and therefore he is the ultimate synthesis of matter and spirit, of Nature of Man.


Gilbert Clive Binyon Vicar of Bilsdale, Yorkshire
John Cornford Trinity College, Cambridge
Julius F. Hecker Moscow University
Ivan Levisky
John Lewis Lecturer in Social Philosophy under the Cambridge Extra-Mural Board
John Macmurray Grote Professor of Philosophy, London University
Bruno Meier
A.L. Morton
Joseph Needham Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge
Reinhard Niebuhr Professor of Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York City
Conrad Noel Vicar of Thaxted, Essex
R. Pascal Lecturer in German, Cambridge University
Karl Polanyi

Text Informations

Original Publication: Christianity and the Social Revolution (with LEWIS John and KITCHIN Donald K. (dirs.)), London, Victor Gollancz, 526 p.
KPA: 13/05 (contract), 13/07 (reviews)

See also

  • In Abraham Rotstein "Weekend Notes": IV, (2) XII.