chapter  12
22 Pages

Dialogues on Religion in a “Socialist Society” under Construction: Marxist Social Scientists and Czech Protestants, 1940s–60s

ByONDŘEJ MATĚJKA

The book Church in a Marxist Society: a Czechoslovak View , published in 1970 by the prestigious American publishing house Harper & Row, caused a stir among Western Protestant intellectuals. 1 Instead of offering another variation on the classical theme of persecution of churches in Communist dictatorships, Jan Milíč Lochman (1922-2004), a well-known and respected Czech theologian, 2 proclaimed that at the end of the 1960s in Czechoslovakia, a model of society had emerged which might be considered ‘a substantial step forward on the way of humanization’. It was a model of society, Lochman argued, which, on the one hand, had ‘broken the basic bondage of economic inequality and oppressive financial power’, and, on the other hand, was ‘applying democratic brakes to the monopoly of political power’. Such a society, Lochman concluded, ‘could correspond to some basic insights of the Biblical faith of the Old and New Testaments’. 3

Lochman’s main thesis on the fundamental compatibility of Christian and Marxist visions of an ideal ‘socialist society’, and his detailed account of the active collaboration of dialogically oriented Protestants and Communists in putting this ideal into practice, produced a mixture of shock, denial and curiosity among his English-speaking readers. Certain representatives of American Protestantism immediately labelled him a ‘Communist agent’, 4 the customarily anti-Communist reviewer for the influential Protestant magazine Christianity Today firmly stated that ‘it would have been better for Dr. Lochman not to have written this book’ 5 and the prestigious Journal of Church and State characterised his analysis as being ‘profoundly annoying’ yet ‘strangely moving’. 6

The goal of this chapter is to retrace how this conception, which for certain Western observers was particularly disturbing, of a joint Christian-Marxist venture of the (re)construction of a ‘socialist society’ came into being, and how it evolved in the Czech lands in the quarter-century following the end of the Second World War. 7 On the basis of archival sources of various state institutions, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC) and the dominant Czech Protestant church-the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB)—and also of international organisations (in particular the World

Council of Churches [WCC]), as well as on interviews both published and unpublished, this chapter chronologically charts the interaction between two main groups of actors (most of them prolific authors of articles and books, constituting another important body of sources for this chapter) who ‘co-constructed’ these visions. These actors consist of Czech Marxist intellectuals and elite Protestant theologians whose at times intense contacts eventually led to the overcoming of ideological and political barriers and to the formation of a surprising coalition (evolving, of course, over time and in space) making their way towards a shared ideal of a ‘socialist society’.