Humboldt Universität Berlin
Dialectics of Freedom and Tradition: Religion and the Communist Movement
When thinking about Indian life and society today, religious and spiritual phenomena occupy a prominent place in almost everyone’s reflection. The alleged monumentality of India’s spiritual heritage has at all times either fascinated of horrified Western observers, the first reaction usually being displayed by modern-times Ashram tourists, the second by analysts of the glaring fissures between different belief systems, but also within the varna structure.
Communist thought is one of the few concepts hitherto which has tried neither: By rejecting religion and its (enamouring or horrifying) spiritual and social reality as insubstantial, as a mere ideological by-product of the underlying relations of production, it has applied a rationalist approach aiming at the profound betterment of society – that is, to rid it of the rule of man over man and thus of religion (as one of its perceived ‘stabilizers’), too.
Notwithstanding this seemingly categorical definition, this resolute drawing of a boundary between itself and “third-ranking opinions” (Lenin), the history of Indian communism has witnessed a number of episodes which have put it into close proximity to religious organizations or movements, starting in its very beginning. Moreover, the dogmatic stance towards religious phenomena has proven not to be as monolithic as it seems at first – of course without abandoning a proper Marxist patch of analysis and action in the eyes of the protagonists. The circumstances of the communist party’s foundation in 1920 are a major point here, as is its stance towards the Pakistan movement in the 1940s.
Thus, the presentation’s main point is to show the specific ‘intermediality’ of the topic: How the communists tried to advance their own system of thought in relation to the ‘medium’ of religion. It will deal with a selection of critical instances and contrast them to basic communist concepts. It shall try to illuminate the improbable – the de facto, if not outspoken alliances of communist activists with the very forces they were, and still are, supposed to wipe off the earth. In the course of the presentation, the different ways of making this possible are to be examined; or, to put it in more contemporary terms: The different techniques of the communists in dealing with religious phenomena will be highlighted, centring on the communist party as the epicentre and theoretical hub of the corresponding movement.