Jesus the communist

Laurie McCauley reports on a meeting attended by Christians and communists

On December 8, Jack Conrad of the CPGB spoke on ‘Jesus: prophet, son of god, or revolutionary?’ at the School of Oriental and African Studies, addressing a meeting organised by Communist Students. It was attended by around 25 people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Comrade Conrad argued that in all probability Jesus was a real historical figure, and could well have presented himself and his prophetic mission in terms of being the ‘son of David’: ie, of the legitimate royal line of ancient Israel. That is what two gospels of the Bible detail.

A convincing account of Jesus and his mission can be constructed. Jesus would have urged the non-payment of taxes to the Romans and class retribution. Not compliance and turning the other cheek. Comrade Conrad referenced Jesus’s repeated attacks on the rich and his championing of the poor. The rich were told to give away their wealth or face everlasting damnation. In god’s kingdom Jesus envisaged a type of communism, a monarchical communism - “not of production, but consumption”.

Israel in the 1st century was riven with profound class contradictions and subversive anti-Roman leaders, guerrilla groups and salvationary parties had the active support of the masses. Given the times, all demands for national freedom and class retribution were cloaked in religious terms, references and doctrines. Jesus was part of the popular revolutionary movement against Roman rule which culminated in the great Jewish revolt from 66-70.

Jesus himself banked on god’s intervention and 12 legions of angels to deliver Israel from the Roman yoke. He clearly failed. Executed by the Roman authorities - there would have been no baying Jewish mob demanding his crucifixion - what is remarkable about Jesus is that his followers were able to convince themselves that he lived on and was just about to return.

The ability of the Roman empire to turn Jesus into his opposite should not surprise us. Ruling classes, especially in conditions of decline, often compromise or buy off opposition movements and make them their own. Christianity became the official religion of the empire under Constantine and he took a leading role in fashioning a theology which preached meek acceptance of exploitation and state power.

In the discussion afterwards, several Christians disputed parts of what comrade Conrad had said. One stated that there was often an “arrogant” attitude on the left towards those of a religious bent. Tina Becker of the CPGB argued that Marxists would be foolish to adopt an attitude like that of atheist Richard Dawkins. He could truly be described as arrogant and actually failed to understand why religion is still such a powerful force in society. We must have a more nuanced analysis than “it’s all rubbish”, and be ready to engage with the many people who hold religious beliefs.

The talk on Jesus was filmed and will be available to watch on the CS website soon. Communist Students are now registered as a society at SOAS and our London branch meetings are moving to this more central location. At next week’s meeting - the last of this year- we will be giving a short introduction to the politics of CS for the benefit of new students, and discussing our plans for 2010. All are welcome.

For more info call Laurie on 07514 500298 or email info@communiststudents.org.uk