Christianity and Anti-Capitalism in the U.S. and Canada
Instructor: Dean Dettloff
Term and Year: Winter, 2019 - Online
Participants with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or Student Services as soon as possible.
Is religion the opiate of the masses, as Marx famously put it, providing a salve for a weary working class that will one day fade away along with the material conditions that prompt it? Though there is no shortage of examples to shore up Marx’s point, history shows that Christianity has not been merely a balm for capitalism’s ills, but also an engine for revolutionary change. In the United States and Canada, Christianity and anti-capitalist politics--as expressed in anarchist, socialist, and communist movements--are not always seen as fellow travellers. Yet a rich legacy of preachers, organizers, revolutionaries, and churchgoers suggests that the two have been deeply intertwined, with Christians openly participating in these movements and prominent activists, many with Christian backgrounds, seeking to win over their Christian neighbors. While not an exhaustive history, this course uncovers some of the dialogue between Christians and anti-capitalist political movements in the United States and Canada, from the Haymarket Rebellion to today. Special attention will be given to movements, biographies, dispatches from struggles, and histories (rather than fixing too closely on theoretical exchanges), with an eye toward speculating about what Christian anti-capitalism in Canada and the United States might look like in the future.
Introducing Christianity and Radical Anti-Capitalism
Since the next thirteen weeks will cover a wide breadth of history, movements, and figures, some conceptual handles will help us to set the stage. There is more than one way to be an anti-capitalist, but our course considers anti-capitalism from the left side of the political spectrum. This means we will need to reckon with “the Left,” broadly construed, and how Christians can be plotted alongside different leftist tendencies. Yet, as we will soon find out, “Christianity” and “the Left” are contested terms. For example, in what ways are the Democratic Party in the US or the Liberal Party in Canada on “the left?” How can we talk about socialists, anarchists, communists, and others in a way that attends to their differences even while all of them have a problem with capitalism? What does it mean to locate “Christianity” within these tendencies? Is there a true Christianity that has an obvious side in class struggle, or does class struggle cut through Christianity in such a way that we have to wrestle with Christians, and perhaps Christianities, on both sides?
Kathleen Schultz, IHM, attempted to provide a helpful introduction to these problems in the socialist magazine, the Monthly Review. Schultz was the National Executive Secretary of Christians for Socialism in the United States (a movement we will consider later in the course) for nearly a decade and was well-acquainted with these issues as an activist and sister. As we explore the history of the Christian Left, Schultz’s introduction will help us find a language to track differences among varieties of Christian anti-capitalists throughout the course. Think about what continuities and discontinuities there might be between the time period Schultz describes and our own context today. If you had to rewrite this article, or provide an appendix to catch it up to speed, what would you feel it is necessary to include?
Introduction: A Taxonomy of Christian Leftism
Schultz, Kathleen, “An Analysis of the Christian Left in the United States,” Monthly Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, July-August 1984, 56-71 (15 pps)
Haymarket to WWII: Christians and the Labor Movement in the United States
Toward the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the “Social Gospel” emerged in the United States and Canada as a mobilizing force. Challenging an economic system that left the poorest people in the most dire straits, this theological and popular movement encouraged Christians to consider capitalism as a constructed system to benefit the few rather than as a natural or divinely ordained order for the world. While preachers and churchgoers explored economic justice in the Christian tradition, radical anti-capitalists, too, tried to uncover a radical Jesus, both as an inspiration for their own activism and as a point of connection with their neighbors.
The Social Gospel is often reduced to a forerunner of liberal Christianity in the mid 20th century. A closer look, however, reveals that Christians were present in radical anti-capitalist movements, including socialist and communist parties and militant trade unions, and that these movements tolerated and sometimes intentionally invited Christian participation. At the same time, some of these anti-capitalist movements had difficulties fully integrating Christians, either for ideological reasons (e.g. materialist atheism) or sociological ones (e.g. racial politics or attitudes among institutional churches).
As we explore the relationship between Christianity and anti-capitalism in the United States, from the Haymarket Rebellion to the Second World War, keep an eye out for how Christianity relates to the disagreements happening within anti-capitalist struggles. What would motivate Fr. Thomas Hagerty to break ranks with the Socialist Party and help found a more radical unionist movement in the Industrial Workers of the World? What does the story of George Washington Woodbey reveal about the whiteness of the labor movement? How did the Christianity of Black Christians in Alabama challenge and contribute to the Communist Party? What would Grace Hutchins find lacking in the social Christianity of her earlier life that she found fulfilled among communists? How does the distinctiveness of the Catholic Worker both support and diverge from other labor struggles?
Look, too, for where Jesus shows up, both among self-identified Christians and otherwise. Does August Spies’ Jesus bear similarities to the Jesus imagined by Eugene Debs? Is Jesus invoked merely as a cynical way of reaching Christians, or does he seem to play another role in the lives and anti-capitalist faith of these figures?
Christianity and the US Labor Movement I: Jesus Among the Anarchists and Socialists
Carter, Heath W., “With the Prophets of Old,” Union Made (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 73-96 (24 pps)
McKanan, Dan, “The Implicit Religion of Radicalism: Socialist Party Theology, 1900-1934,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, September 2010 Vol. 78, No. 3, 750-778 (28 pps)
Christianity and the US Labor Movement II: Jesus Among the Communists and Radical Unionists
Kelley, Robin D. G., “‘Comrades, Praise Gawd for Lenin and Them!’: Ideology and Culture among Black Communists in Alabama, 1930-1935,” Science & Society, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), 59-82 (23 pps)
Foner, Philip S., “Reverend George Washington Woodbey: Early Twentieth Century California Black Socialist,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Apr., 1976), pp. 136-157 (22 pps)
Lee, Janet, “‘From Missionary to Bolshevik’: Grace Hutchins and the Politics of Devotion,” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 26, No. 2 (2003), 181-190 (9 pps)
Doherty, Robert E., “Thomas J. Hagerty, the Church, and Socialism,” Labor History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1963), 39-56 (17 pps)
Christianity and the US Labor Movement III: The Catholic Worker
"The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker." The Catholic Worker Movement. https://www.catholicworker.org/cw-aims-and-means.html. (Originally published in The Catholic Worker newspaper, May 2018, 85th Anniversary Issue.) (1 pg)
Cook, Vaneesa, “The Unaffiliated Revolution of Dorothy Day,” Raritan, Vol. 37, No. 4 (2018), 70-96 (26 pps)
The Winnipeg Strike to WWII: Christians and the Labor Movement in Canada
Canada is often taken to be a nation of politeness and moderation. At the turn of the 20th century, however, the Canadian Social Gospel and the anticapitalist movement were anything but polite and moderate. Gains made by progressive Christians in Canada would eventually help shape the healthcare system many enjoy today. With the Winnipeg Strike in 1919, one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history, many pastors and churchgoers identified with Jesus the Worker. In Quebec, the rise of reactionary Catholicism would provoke varying responses to a growing socialist movement fomenting within both the hierarchy and laity. Christians were at the heart of the Canadian Cooperative Federation, a self-consciously socialist organization, and tried to present a vision of Jesus as a socialist to workers across the country. At the same time, some socialist Christians were not content with the CCF or more reformist labor groups, prompting them to join the Communist Party of Canada.
Contrary to a popular contemporary image of a serene Canadian liberalism, these stories present a volatile and powerful Canadian labor movement, with Christians deeply embedded. Keep in mind the experience of Christians in the US as we explore the Christian labor movement in Canada. Where do these struggles overlap, and where do they appear to be different? How do Catholic and Protestant contributions to the labor movement in Canada relate to denominational differences in the labor movement in the US?
Finally, before we jump ahead a few decades, reflect on this period as a whole. Do these stories offer any workable tools for the labor movement and Christians today? How did major historical events like the Bolshevik revolution or strikes affect Christians? Did Christianity transform for people like Grace Hutchins and A. E. Smith as they moved further and further left? How did people like Joe Wallace or Black pastors in Alabama hold on to their faith in communist parties? Where did Jesus manifest, and how?
Christianity and the Canadian Labor Movement I: Protestants, the Social Gospel, and the CCF
Ives, Andrew, “Christians on the Left: The Importance of the Social Gospel in the Canadian Social Democratic Tradition” Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [Online], Vol. 9, No. 1 (2011) (16 pps)
Christianity and the Canadian Labor Movement II: Catholics, Church Teaching, and the CCF
Baum, Gregory, “The Official Catholic Reaction to Canadian Socialism,” in Catholics and Canadian Socialism (Toronto: J. Lorimer & Company), 97-134 (37 pps)
Baum, Gregory, “Voices Crying in the Wilderness” in Catholics and Canadian Socialism, 137-146 (9 pps)
Christianity and the Canadian Labor Movement III: Christians and the Communist Party of Canada
Mitchell, Tom, "From the Social Gospel to 'the Plain Bread of Leninism': A.E. Smith's Journey to the Left in the Epoch of Reaction After World War I," Labour/Le Travail, Issue 33 (Spring 1993), 125-151 (26 pps)
Smith, A.E., All My Life (Toronto: Progress Books, 1977), 221-224 (3 pps)
Doyle, James, “The Canadian Worker Poet: The Life and Writings of Joe Wallace,” Canadian Poetry, Issue 35 (Fall-Winter, 1994), 80-101 (21 pps)
1960s - 1980s: Revolutionaries in the Pews
After the Second World War and with the beginning of the Cold War, socialist and communist movements faced a number of new challenges. The communist parties in the United States and Canada were subjected to intense political persecution, splintering the left, while socialist parties, too, began to transform or disperse. Events related to the Soviet Union, like Nikita Krushchev’s 1956 speech about Stalin and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, drove the wedge deeper into the communist parties in the US and Canada and led socialists to highlight their disagreements with communism. At the same time, the United States’ attempt to contain communism around the world, with the participation of Canada, led many to sympathize with communists in places like Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and China.
The Black Panther Party Goes to Church (and Vice Versa)
Cressler, Matthew, “Black Catholics and Black Power: Catholics and the Struggle for Self-Determination” in Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 116-151 (35 pps)
Cone, James, “The Black Church and Marxism: What Do They Have To Say To Each Other?” An Occasional Paper from The Institute for Democratic Socialism, 1980, 1-13 (13 pps) (you may optionally read Michael Harrington’s response, included in the PDF document for the syllabus)
The New York Young Lords Occupy Christian Space
Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel, “Decolonial Imaginaries: Rethinking ‘the People’ in the Church Offensive,” in The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015), 143-164 (21 pps)
Ortiz, Juan “Fi,” et. al, “The People’s Church,” in The Young Lords: A Reader, Ed. Darrel Wanzer-Serrano (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 202-216 (14 pps)
Christians for Socialism in the USA and Canada
“Christians for Socialism,” Social Scientist, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Sep., 1975), pp. 48-55 (7 pps)
Schultz, Kathleen, “CFS/USA: History and Perspectives of Our Movement,” Radical Religion, Vol. 4, No. 3-4 (1979), 7-15 (11 pps)
Baum, Gregory, “Politises Chretiens: A Christian- Marxist Network in Quebec, 1974-1982” Studies in Political Economy, Issue 32 (Summer 1990), 7-28 (21 pps)
Christianity and 21st Century Movements
Jumping ahead in time again, we pick up more recent Christian participation in progressive and anti-capitalist struggles. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, communist and socialist movements looked at an uncertain future. Neoconservatives famously referred to the “end of history,” resulting in an unchallenged and unchecked hegemony of global capitalism. They ignored the victories of radical groups around the world, like the Zapatistas in Mexico or the significant communist presence in the fall of apartheid in South Africa (to take only two among many examples), but in the United States and Canada they felt anti-capitalist groups were dying down. Apart from some major hiccups within their borders, like the 1990 Oka Crisis in Canada and the 1999 Battle of Seattle, it seemed to many in the US and Canada like anti-capitalist struggles were offering their last death rattles.
Finally, what lessons could be gleaned from previous incarnations of Christian anti-capitalists and anti-capitalists who reach out to Christians? What innovations are occurring today that might improve or hinder anti-capitalist and Christian relations from the past? Is there a future for Christian anti-capitalism, and what might it look like? Where is Jesus the Worker in 2019? Where else is God among the oppressed today?
Christians and Contemporary Mass Movements: Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter
Brock, Rita Nakashima, “What Has Occupy Got to Do with Feminist Liberation Theology?” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall 2013), 169-172 (3 pps)
Campbell, Emily, Torpey, John, and Turner, Bryan S., “Religion and the Occupy Wall Street Movement,” Critical Research on Religion Vol. 3, No. 2 (2015), 127-147 (20 pps)
Brown, Lawrence T., “The Movement for Black Lives vs. the Black Church,” Kalfou, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 2017), 7-17 (10 pps)
Unsettling and Antifa: Standing Rock and Charlottesville
Roewe, Brian, “Larger faith community comes to Standing Rock in solidarity,” National Catholic Reporter, Nov 7, 2016 (4 pps)
Reznicek, Jessica, “Uncomfortable,” via pacis, Vol. 41, No. 1 (April 2017), 1 (1 pg)
Organizing Religion: Christians for Socialism and the Friendly Fire Collective
“The Wind Blows Where It Chooses!: A New Manifesto for Christians for Socialism in the United States and Canada,” Christians for Socialism (14 pps)
Friendly Fire Newsletter, July 2018 (2 pps)
Noble, John, “How Activists Are Connecting the Dots Between Faith and the Prison Strike,” Sojourners (2 pps)
Course Learning Goals
After taking this seminar, participants will acquire a critical understanding of the mutually informing history of Christianity and the radical left in the United States in Canada, in order to be able to both situate contemporary Christian activism in a broader tradition and better appreciate the plurality of associations between these groups in the past. Students will be able to:
a) Total reading (850 pgs): 526 pps for class+reading for course paper or project
b) Class Participation:
c) Reading Response:
d) Description of course project:
Weighting of Elements to be Evaluated
i. Class Participation: 20%
ii. In-Seminar Leadership: 20%
iii. Research Project/Paper: 60%
"The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker." The Catholic Worker Movement. https://www.catholicworker.org/cw-aims-and-means.html. (Originally published in The Catholic Worker newspaper, May 2018, 85th Anniversary Issue.)
Aivalis, Christo, “In Service of the Lowly Nazarene Carpenter: The English Canadian Labour Press and the Case for Radical Christianity, 1926–1939,” Labour / Le Travail, Issue 73 (Spring 2014), 97-126
Baum, Gregory, “The Official Catholic Reaction to Canadian Socialism,” in Catholics and Canadian Socialism (Toronto: J. Lorimer & Company), 97-134
_____. “Politises Chretiens: A Christian- Marxist Network in Quebec, 1974-1982” Studies in Political Economy, Issue 32 (Summer 1990), 7-28
_____. “Voices Crying in the Wilderness” in Catholics and Canadian Socialism, 137-146
Carter, Heath, “With the Prophets of Old” in Union Made (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 73-96
“Christians for Socialism,” Social Scientist, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Sep., 1975), pp. 48-55
Cook, Vaneesa, “The Unaffiliated Revolution of Dorothy Day,” Raritan, Vol. 37, No. 4 (2018), 70-96
Cone, James, “The Black Church and Marxism: What Do They Have To Say To Each Other?” An Occasional Paper from The Institute for Democratic Socialism, 1980, 1-13
Cornell, Tom, “The Catholic Worker, Communism, and the Communist Party,” American Catholic Studies, Vol. 125, No. 1 (Spring 2014), 87-101
Cressler, Matthew, “Black Catholics and Black Power: Catholics and the Struggle for Self-Determination” in Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 116-151
Debs, Eugene V. "Jesus, the Supreme Leader." Marxists.org. https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1914/0300-debs-jesussupreme.pdf.
Doherty, Robert E., “Thomas J. Hagerty, the Church, and Socialism,” Labor History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1963), 39-56
Foner, Philip S. “Reverend George Washington Woodbey: Early Twentieth Century California Black Socialist.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Apr., 1976), 136-157
Kelley, Robin D. G., “‘Comrades, Praise Gawd for Lenin and Them!’: Ideology and Culture among Black Communists in Alabama, 1930-1935,” Science & Society, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), pp. 59-82
Lee, Janet, “‘From Missionary to Bolshevik’: Grace Hutchins and the Politics of Devotion,” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 26, No. 2 (2003), 181-190
McKanan, Dan, “The Implicit Religion of Radicalism: Socialist Party Theology, 1900-1934,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 78, No. 3 (September 2010), 750-778
“Meet the Two Catholic Workers Who Secretly Sabotaged the Dakota Access Pipeline to Halt Construction,” Democracy Now!, July 28, 2017
Mitchell, Tom, "From the Social Gospel to 'the Plain Bread of Leninism': A.E. Smith's Journey to the Left in the Epoch of Reaction After World War I," Labour/Le Travail, Issue 33 (Spring 1993), 125-151
Newton, Huey P., “On the Relevance of the Church,”  in The Huey P. Newton Reader, Eds. David Hilliard and Donald Weise (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), 214-226
Reznicek, Jessica, “Uncomfortable,” via pacis, Vol. 41, No. 1 (April 2017), 1
Roewe, Brian, “Larger faith community comes to Standing Rock in solidarity,” National Catholic Reporter, Nov 7, 2016
Schultz, Kathleen, “An Analysis of the Christian Left in the United States,” Monthly Review, Vol. 36, No. 3 (July-August 1984), 56-71
_____. “CFS/USA: History and Perspectives of Our Movement,” Radical Religion, Vol. 4, No. 3-4, (1979), 7-15
Smith, A.E., All My Life (Toronto: Progress Books, 1977), 221-224
“Terror in Charlottesville, Part 2: Cornel West, Rev. Traci Blackmon & BLM Activist Jalane Schmidt,“ Democracy Now!, August 14, 2017
Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel, “Decolonial Imaginaries: Rethinking ‘the People’ in the Church Offensive,” in The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015), 143-164
Barger, Lilian Calles, The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)
Baum, Gregory, The Oil Has Not Run Dry (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016)
Burns, Dave, “The Soul of Socialism: Christianity, Civilization, and Citizenship in the Thought of Eugene Debs,” Labor (2008) 5 (2): 83-116
Burns, Jeffrey M., “Eugene Boyle, the Black Panther Party and the New Clerical Activism,” U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 13, No. 3, Social Activism (Summer, 1995), pp. 137-158.
Cantwell, Christopher D., Heath W. Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake, eds. The Pew and the Picket Line (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016)
Carden, Ron, “The Bolshevik Bishop William Montgomery Brown's Path to Heresy, 1906-1920,” Anglican and Episcopal History Vol. 72, No. 2 (June 2003), pp. 197-228
Cole-Arnal, Oscar, “The Prairie labour churches: The Methodist input,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses (34:1) 2005: 3-26.
_____. To Set the Captives Free: Liberation Theology in Canada (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1998)
Cone, James, Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2018)
Day, Dorothy, Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2003)
Dennis, Robert H., “Beginning to Restructure the Institutional Church: Canadian Social Catholics and the CCF, 1931-1944,” CCHA Historical Studies 74 (2008): 51-71.
Goudzwaard, Bob, Capitalism and Progress (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979)
Handy, Robert T., “Christianity and Socialism in America, 1900-1920,” Church History, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Mar., 1952), pp. 39-54
Kelley, Robin D. G., Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990)
Lloyd, Vincent, “Theology and Real Politics: On Huey P. Newton,” in Renegotiating Power, Theology, and Politics, Daniel J., Elgendy R., eds. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
Rauschenbusch, Walter, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008)
Rieger, Joerg, “Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude and Interreligious Dialogue,” Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 34 (2014), pp. 162-172
Ruether, Rosemary, Liberation Theology: Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power (New York: Paulist Press, 1972)
Schneider, Nathan, “Activism and Inwardness,” Cross Currents, Vol. 65, No. 2, (June 2015), pp. 166-178
_____, Thank You, Anarchy (Oakland: University of California Press, 2013)
Soelle, Dorothee, Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999)
Other Resources: (non-literary)
Woody Guthrie, “Jesus Christ” (audio)