Various types of interaction between spokesmen for the free world and communism have occurred since Marxism was incorporated in the USSR and the Western world was divided into spheres. The quasi-honeymoon period between Western liberals and the dynamics of Soviet Marxist society gradually came to a halt with the revelations of Stalin’s excesses. A period of anti-Marxism prevailed in much of the West until World War II, and then for two decades after 1945.

A mood developed, prompted by many elements, that encouraged dialogue between intellectuals on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Discussion of a wide spectrum of questions, many ethical in nature, came into play. This led toward intellectual accommodation—or at least toward a degree of mutual understanding.

In the fifties, men like John C. Bennett attempted a nonemotional understanding of Russian Marxism, while much Marxist thinking in Eastern European countries tended to harden into orthodoxy. Peace conferences and symposia were held in the sixties, usually under Eastern auspices, frequently in lands controlled by Russia. Occasionally they were held in neutral lands, and less frequently in the Western hemisphere.

Meanwhile, expatriates from Eastern Europe played a significant role in the movement for Christian-Marxist conversations. Before leaving his native Czechoslovakia following the “Prague spring” and the August 1968 Russian invasion, John Lochmann had sought to interpret Marxism to Western academic groups. Interchange between Christians and Marxists was limited by two elements in the sixties and seventies: (1) the need for Eastern European speakers to avoid difficulty at home by offering only the most restrained critiques of the thought of Marx and Engels, and (2) the politeness Western intellectuals felt obliged to use in dealing with Eastern visitors.

Helmut Gollwitzer, a Protestant, and the Jewish thinker Ernest Bloch, who, along with Lochmann was a professor in the University of Basel, Switzerland, attempted to establish dialogue during this period. In the early and midsixties, Joseph Hromádka exerted influence through peace conferences to which Western intellectuals were invited. But his hopes that the “socialism” developing in Czechoslovakia might adjust to rising demands for freedom were shattered as the Russian tanks rolled into Prague.

In recent years, conversations between West and East have been at a relative standstill. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and events in Poland have chilled the atmosphere until those who sought ideological exchanges across the Iron Curtain were inhibited—Easterners for reasons of prudence, and Westerners because of disillusionment.

Now, new conversations are in progress within Eastern bloc lands. A recent volume by Paul Majzes, professor of religious studies at Rosemont College (Pa.), suggests that a window has opened upon the Eastern European landscape, revealing discussions of Marxism by those who live in close, daily contact with Communist authorities. Majzes wrote Christian-Marxist Dialogue in Eastern Europe (Augsburg) as a Christian whose Yugoslavian background gives him a unique understanding of many issues. Among them are compulsory “acceptance” of Marxism by Christians; the relative possibility for dialogue between Christians and Marxists among lands in the Eastern bloc; and the manner in which “praxis” (or pragmatic governmental policies) at times takes precedence over dogmatic Marxist “orthodoxy.”

Majzes uses Yugoslavia, which enjoyed a period of relatively free dialogue from 1967 to 1972, as a kind of laboratory for the practice of Christian-Marxist conversation. While the Belgrade government is Marxist, it has performed the almost miraculous feat of throwing off the yoke that Russian “liberation” from Nazism brought to the other Eastern European nations after World War II. For over three decades it has been able to maintain relative independence from the USSR, producing a Marxian “soft side,” and making public discussion of ideological issues possible. Majzes notes that careful academic and critical studies in Marxist theory have developed “an astonishingly broad base among intellectuals” by whom “criticism of Yugoslav Marxist views on religion by Soviet writers is generally dismissed with amusement.” His knowledge of Slavic languages and earlier participation in this dialogue enable him to write with understanding about the Christian-Marxist discussion in lands in the Russian orbit.

In most of these countries, dialogue must be conducted with extreme caution, and approaches and modes of expression vary. Recognizing these differences, Majzes traces elements common to these conversations between Christians and Marxists, a few of which follow:

• Dialogue is an extremely limited activity. It generally avoids either raising unrealistic hopes or inciting conflict with the demands of the state. Christians are dissuaded from seeking power, which is felt to distort the Christian message. Conversations are deemed to have real value in reducing incidents of internal threats.

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• The content of these “interfaith” conversations stresses elements of compassion for the poor of the world and upon strong scriptural statements to this effect, especially in the Magnificat (Luke 1:51–53).

• The pilgrim quality of the present life is emphasized, along with a recognition of the evils of the world (upon which Christianity and socialism agree), coupled with emphasis on the need for united effort toward the good of all. Frequently there are unexpressed but deeply felt hopes for major modifications of Marxist practice, and for preservation of the life of the church as intact as possible.

Much more could be lifted from this volume to indicate the strongly creative elements within the dialogue. They are there despite the necessary acceptance of the power and authority of the “people’s republics” governments.

Dr. Kuhn is professor of philosophy of religion, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

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