A Marxist-Christian Symposium in Moscow

By Alan Weiss

ABSENT FROM the 15th Marxist-Christian Symposium (Moscow, October 14-16, 1988) was any confrontation toward the West. Whereas the central topic of the Vienna Symposium, two years ago, was "Star Wars," this topic was brought up in Moscow only by myself (with the amusing consequence of my being branded as one of the most militant delegates at the Conference). How far we have travelled!

Professor Mikhail Krutogolov, of the Academy of Sciences, began by discussing the changes in the Soviet Union. In the past, he says, the class struggle and the supremacy of the command system, were emphasized, and bourgeois rights were not applied to socialism. Now, however, Soviet policy holds that universal values are more important than class struggle, that militarism is a threat to the entire planet, that the abuse of centralized power is a problem for socialism, and that freedom of conscience, the democratization of elections, and the establishment of socialist pluralism are necessary.

On the second day, we divided into two workshops. Mine was on "The Human Right to Live in Peace in the Framework of the Human Rights Concept." The most striking event was the behavior of the Soviet delegate, Gregory Lokshin, who gave a fine speech. Next spoke a representative from the Russian Orthodox Church. During this intervention, Lokshin proceeded to read Pravda. True, the Church representative was aggressive toward the Soviet state and claimed simplistically that all problems (from ecology to poverty to war) could be solved if only mankind became moral. Nevertheless, Lokshin's actions made a bad impression and put into question the genuineness of the Church- State reconciliation.

I COMMENTED THAT WHEN President Carter started the "Human Rights Campaign," he included civil and political rights that were emphasized in capitalist democracies of the West, and excluded social and economic rights that were emphasized in the socialist states. This prompted a dialogue on such problems as unemployment and homelessness, which are found in the capitalist states. Anthony McNulty of the British Institute of Human Rights noted that, as far as the courts are concerned, litigation can only be done in cases where something is done against rather than when nothing is done for the individual. Hence, "human rights" could apply legally only to "negative," not "positive" human rights. In private, Dr. Alexander Kiss of the Institut des Droits de l'Homme told me that he believed that in the Soviet restructuring program, they, too, will have to create unemployment.

Alexander Kiss proposed that a committee be set up to study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to specify in what ways war would violate it, and to prepare a document to be brought before the United Nations.

Professor Heinrich Schneider of Austria mentioned the lack of conscientious objection status in the Soviet Union. Professor Krutogolov responded that he personally supported C. O. status, but that public opinion in the Soviet Union was still strongly against it. However, a simpler solution to the problem could be found: Given that in the nuclear age, armies are an antiquated vestige, the draft in all European countries could be eliminated and replaced by an army of volunteers. These remarks were eliminated from the final report, I suspect because no European country except Great Britain wants to do away with conscription.

BACK IN THE LARGE session, we heard Professor Buchala, a Marxist from Poland, say that although Marxism and Christianity were different, they could be reconciled metaphysically. Walfredo Corrales, from Cuba - the only Third World representative - disliked such "metaphysical" thinking. He noted that Latin Americans live with an atom bomb every day in the form of hunger, and that for them the question is not one of a dialogue between Marxists and Christians, but the necessity of their cooperating.

People who can make an institutional difference attended this conference. For the first time, the Vatican sent a personal representative, Dr. Francis Rode. Being of Jewish extraction, I resented it when, after I mentioned one morning at the breakfast table that I had to exchange some money, Dr. Rode responded that I could find a much better exchange at a "Jewish" bank in the West. I also considered inappropriate his intervention suggesting that the Soviet Union's recent overtures toward believers was a ploy to gain time until they were strong enough to eradicate religion.

Nevertheless, it did give Soviet representatives of both church and state a chance to reaffirm their commitment to cooperate. I am glad to report that Dr. Rode was pleased with what he witnessed. May such dialogues continue!

Alan Weiss teaches at John Abbott College, Montréal.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1989

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1989, page 7. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Alan Weiss here

Peace Magazine homepage