Russian orthodox anarchism in the 21st century

RADIO OMSK INTERVIEW ON CHRISTIAN ANARCHISM

Jakov Krotov: Especially by Prawoslav (“Russian orthodox”) Christians the Russian revolution of 1917 was seen as a victory of anarchy, chaos and lawlessness. In his book “The Philosophy of Inequality” written during around the time of this revolution the Prawoslav thinker Nikolai Berdyayev devoted a chapter to a critique of anarchism. Still, in his autobiography written shortly before his death he described himself as a Christian mystic transcendent anarchist. How to explain this? The anarchism that took shape in Russia in the 19th century, with such names as Bakunin, Tolstoy and Kropotkin was the most remarkable Russian contribution to the political culture of the Europe of those days. Especially the anarchism developed by Bakunin was clearly anti-Christian. God is a Lord, a master. How can a slave of God be free? Impossible, said Bakunin. That's why anarchists fight every religion, in particular Christendom. So, my first question to our guest is: how is it possible that, among the greatest Prawoslav thinkers of the 20th century, some embrace that once anti-Christian anarchism? Where is Bakunin's anarchism different from Berdyayev's anarchism?

Ignati Hanzin: The reason is that the word “anarchism” is often used incorrectly, too broadly. For, what is anarchism? Anarchism means “no power”, no violent power, no power over people not exercised by themselves, no State. A State is also an organisation of people, but of a group of people who have taken all the power in a society into their hands to the prejudice of the rest of society. Understood in this way anarchism is not at all incompatible with the Christian teachings.

We should not forget that Jesus Christ relied exclusively on the authority he had and on the free acceptance of the graces he had to offer. I can accept God's grace and thus be sanctified and live a holy life. But I can also reject God's grace because I have a free will.

In this sense the Christian concept of freedom as free acceptance of a gift is the complete opposite of submission to some outside power, to what are called laws. Remember what Metropolit Illarion wrote in his “A word about law and grace”. The law (meant was the Jewish law) prescribes to do this or to do that. If you don't do it you will be punished. Grace is accepted freely, nobody forces you. in fact, you go to it, you are happy with it, you may accept it or reject it, you have the right to be saved or to perish spiritually, but nobody threatens you with punishment. That is the true concept of Christendom as preached by Christ and the apostles. This concept was later perverted by the hierarchical, authoritarian, imperial Church of the Middle Ages. But it is totally identical with authentic, wise, mystical, humanist anarchism.

Jakov Krotov: I would like to observe that the French philosopher and political scientist Jacques Ellul, a prominent theoretician of 20th century Christian anarchism, was a Protestant who based his Christian anarchism on the Old, not on the New Testament. He pointed to the fact that the Old Testament describes the life of Israel as rather anarchistic, that is if we see anarchism as hostility to the State, which is clearly the only functional definition of anarchism, not violence or terrorism. What this means is another question. During many ages Israel was governed by judges, there was no monarchy. When God gave in and gave Israel a king he did this with the warning that he had given them a king and a big State because of their stubbornness, but that with a king they would be far worse off than without a king. Of the protagonists and godly persons of the Old Testament, Ellul (as a Protestant he gave great authority to the Old Testament) points out that strictly speaking only Joseph the Beautiful and the prophet Daniel collaborated with the State, with all the consequences this had. The vast majority of the prophets of the Old Testament were anarchists, that is people who were absolutely not prepared to submit to those in power. They were prepared to lay down their lives and wanted to tell only the truth to the king, nothing else.

And then there is the letter of the apostle Paul to the Romans, the famous chapter 13, in which he says that everybody should submit to those in power. Christian Statism was during the Middle Ages based on this text. Isn't that shameful, Father Ignati? After all, the apostle Paul spoke not only for the Middle Ages but he said at the very dawn of Christendom that we must submit to those in power. Where is the demarcation line, what is acceptable, what not?

Ignati Hanzhin: A very interesting question indeed. Jacques Ellul explored the origins of the anarchistic thinking in ancient Israel and in other ancient societies and saw this anarchistic thinking realised in the power of the judges.

I don't entirely agree here with Jacques Ellul because the power of the judges was an embryonic form of the later authoritarian monarchical power. The power of the judges was not based on the general consensus of the community but on the decision of some charismatic talented person who took all the power into his hands, and this resulted in power usurpation in general. Once there are people at the top of some more or less local community why not put somebody at the top of the biggest community, the people, in this case the people of Israel? And this happened. At that point religion took characteristics not of its own, it became authoritarian.

The authoritarian element in religion made the priest into a bureaucrat, a leader, a commander, that is to say somebody who is not only a distributor of God's graces, who not only calls, persuades and speaks about good and better, but who is a ruler, an expert in laws that have to be implemented and who makes people implement those laws. With the tragedy of religion in the State as a result.

(Question of a listener)

Jakov Krotov: Fyedor Dostoyevski was for many people of his days a symbol of a State worshipper, one has only to read his diary to understand this. But as a writer he was the author of the famous interpretation of "Jesus' temptation in the desert" describing how Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world if he worshipped him. Many Christian commentators, among them Jacques Ellul, stress that this means that State power comes from Satan because it is power usurpated with violence and coercion. The Gospels tell also of the unique miracle that happened when Jesus paid temple tax, a State tax due by all the Jews. Jesus asked the apostles to catch a fish and in its mouth they found a coin. By the ideas of those days this was a joke on the tax gatherers. It meant that the expression "give to the emperor what you owe to the emperor" doesn't mean that one should give the emperor more but that one should give to the emperor just what one owes to him, not one kopeike more.

In this sense the exhortation of the apostle Paul means only that one should obey those in power, not go to extremes, not refuse to obey, but "Brothers, you are called to freedom". Freedom is what it is all about for the apostle and his call to obey is made in the context of his sermon "On love", where love is ready to do much, even to humiliate oneself. This leads to the question: when got the authoritarian principle the upper hand in the Christian church?

Ignati Hanzhin: To answer to this question we must first look at the beginnings of Christendom. The first Christian communities had a charismatic hierarchy. This meant that somebody was elected from within a Christian community not because of his wealth, his influence or power but because his piousness and because of the esteem he enjoyed. He accepted to lead the community without special rights or privileges. He was responsible for the inevitable contacts with the authorities, collected donations, etc. He had no power in the classical sense but over time rich and influential people and people in positions of power joined the Church and started working in line with the Church.

From the times of emperor Constantine onwards the Church became practically part of the State structure with a fundamental change in the structure of the Church as a result. The head of a group of communities, the episkop, became a kind if governor. The priests obtained a certain power and the possibility to own some property - they became different from the common believers in everything: in dress, in remuneration as well as in other things which usually distinguish representatives of governments from the common people. This system got its definitive shape with the creation of a monarchical central power with popes, bishops, mitropolits etc. In a word, the church became a State in the State.

(Questions of listeners)

Jakov Krotov: I repeat that present day anarchism is very often close to Christendom and claims very good grounds. The anti-Christian anarchism of the 19th century, the violent and terrorist anarchism has been defeated. How came the fall of apartheid in 20th century South Africa? Nelson Mandela did not win when he used violence but when he moved to absolute non-violence. In the US not the Black Panthers achieved equal rights for the Black Americans but Martin Luther King, the Christian church minister. We seen practically everywhere the same. In India Gandhi's concept achieved independence. Hitler's and Stalin's violence were not victorious. So, terrorist anarchism is unacceptable, although its logic is, unfortunately, often very understandable. The logic of despair, of violence to tell what one cannot tell in the papers. The logic of the Russian anarchists: systematic violence and explosions can have an influence on the system: "If every governor general of Moscow is blown up, sooner or later there is nobody left who wants to be blown up and the post becomes vacant." But things did not go this way, the system proved too strong. Violence as a warning to society doesn't work either. There is one small difference, though: all those characteristics of terrorist anarchism exist also in the State, when anarchism becomes violent it uses things it wishes to destroy as weapons.

What answer gives Christian anarchism to the practical questions of life? Should we take part in elections or send our children to State schools?

(Question of a listener)

Jakov Krotov: The problem is, Christian anarchism says, that governments never obey their own laws. In that respect they are far more anarchistic than anarchists. Anarchists revolt in words but obey the laws. States, not only the Russian State, tend not to obey their laws.

Jacques Ellul stressed that, to the difference of 19th century anarchism, contemporary anarchism is not only politics, politics is even not its first thing, to-day's anarchists work in the first place non-politically. The alternative schools are an example. Anarchists don't send their children to State schools, nor do they keep their children at home because they see the dangers thereof. A famous alternative school was founded by Daniel Cohn Bendit's brother.

Of course, contemporary anarchism says, anarchist education is not meant to bring an ideal anarchist society, Christian anarchists do not believe in the possibility of an ideal society, they believe in God's Kingdom. Nevertheless, Christians ought to consider this education, this anarchist opposition to State totalitarianism and State pressure as obligatory, otherwise the State swallows everything. The anarchists of the 19th century saw man as good; if only the State as source of theft and murdering disappeared, if the police disappeared crime and bandits would disappear.

Looking at present-day Christian anarchism, Father Ignati, what, in your opinion, has changed, in which respect is the position of present-day Christian anarchism towards the State different from classic anarchism?

Ignati Hanzhin: Very much has changed. You mentioned alternative education. I'm rather in favour of individual home education. In my opinion educated Christian parents can educate their children far better than any school. But there is more. Christian anarchism builds free structures. You mention the free schools. It is also possible to build a community, a beautiful community, where people live together, where all decisions are taken by consensus on a basis of free agreement. It is even possible to build a group of people who work together in complete freedom on a basis of mutual aid without any government pressure, peaceful alternative structures such as Auroville in India. You probably have heard of this city. People of different races and nationalities live there together. They do not change the laws of the surrounding society, they are not communists, they do not reject private property nor any customs of the surrounding society. They built an entirely free city where everybody is free, where everybody takes part in the administration of society as she or he likes, the majority does not rule the minority as happens in classic democracies. If the minority doesn't agree with the decisions of the majority it can do things in its own way. All look what happens, which way was best.

Christian anarchism is in the first place an ethical movement which works for perfection, for perfection of the relationship of man with nature and of the relationships among human beings.

We have not yet spoken of ecology but in these days Christian anarchism and ethical anarchism in general are very closely linked with the ecological movement, with the protection and conservation of nature and of all living beings, in a word with a truly Christian relationship to all that lives. They reject violence, not just a priori but because there is absolutely no need for violence. Violence is an obstacle, it is detrimental, there is no place for it here.

(Question of a listener about the many religions)

Jakov Krotov: Why there are so many religions? Because of anarchism. Because man is totally free. God is the first anarchist. God doesn't impose himself, God calls people as children. If we say that we are slaves of God we are joking a little because we have been made children by Christ. In both the Old and the New Testament there is a lot of humor. I know of at least five monographs on this matter, it is just very old humor. If we don't understand the humour in the 19th century paper "Strekoza"; how can we understand two thousand years old humour? When Jesus says that the birds have nests and the foxes burrows whereas he has no place to rest his head he is, of course, joking, he is ironic, self-ironic, highly humoristic.

(Question of a listener)

Jakov Krotov: Take a very simple thing, a hot issue in Russia to-day: Should anarchists vote? Jacques Ellul felt they shouldn't. A Christian, as an anarchist and free person, should not vote. Why not? Because politics always means power and hierarchy. To the difference of our guest Father Ignati Hanzhin, Ellul rejected the ecological movement [I think: meant is: ecological parties. BM]: ecology yes, "Green" no. Where there is a movement, where there is a structure, be it the "Rainbow Keepers" [an ecological organisation with members in Russia, Ukraine and, possibly, other countries, BM] or whatever, there is power, which means that anarchists have no business there. Anarchists consciously reject everything containing elements of a bourgeois, socialist or communist society: vaccinations, taxes, obligatory education and even decentralised power, because a mayor can be worse than a Roman emperor - anarchists reject power tout court. Social life should begin at the bottom. Which is, of course, utopian, but, as Vladimir Solovyev said, only utopia is worth realisation.

(A listener thanks the organisers for the programme)

Jakov Krotov: Thank you. Anarchism started in France. Proudhon was the first to call himself an anarchist. His was a monarchic anarchism. Anarchism flowered in Russia but at the moment anarchism, I mean true, conscious anarchism is most developed in the U.S.

Often not anarchism proves to be a problem but whether one is a citizen of a given country or not. A classic example is the refusal of the Supreme Court of the USA in 1931 to grant American citizenship to a Canadian Baptist minister who taught theology at the U.S. Yale University. The minister refused to pronounce the usual oath of loyalty to the USA, in which loyalty to the American constitution comes first. The minister held that a Christian has to be more loyal to God, see Acts of the Apostles 5: 29: one should not be more loyal to people than to God.

The judge felt that this minister "gives his own interpretation of the will of God and uses this personal interpretation as his main point", contrary to the nation's need to keep things going. If the government decides to go to war and everybody decides for her or himself whether this pleases God we get total anarchy and chaos. The government must be able to rely on the unconditional loyalty of the citizens, which is why the oath is worded the way it is. From that day onwards critics of the Supreme Court of the United States say that the United States are no longer the theocracy they were, say, in 1789. So, long live anarchy (in the United States anarchists are usually called "anarcho-libertarians").

But then a question arises reminding of the collision that happened in Russia in 1927, when Pravoslav archieri and priests were asked to swear loyalty to the Soviet powers. Many did this, which resulted in post-revolutionary anarchism in Russia. Schismatics, people who left the womb of the Moscow patriarchat were accused of anarchism. The Old Believers, aren't they anarchists? [Old Believers: Pravoslavs who refused to accept the reforms introduced (imposed) by a Moscow patriarch in the 18th century. BM] Father Ignati, which place has anarchism in the history of the Russian Pravoslav church? Was there anarchism in it?

Ignati Hanzhin: Historical anarchism was sometimes an ally of Christendom and sometimes an adversary. The anarcho-communists were fierce enemies of Christendom and so in fact destroyed anarchist thinking in Russia. The same can be said of Bakunin and similar anarchists. But there was also Christian anarchism. Tolstoyism was true anarchism. Tolstoy followed the teachings of Christ, although he was not a church member.

To refuse to be a member of a church does not mean that one rejects Christendom. One can also wish to be a member of a church but reject, for instance, a church as represented by the present Moscow patriarchat. To take the oath of 1927, for instance, was gruesome treason to the spirit of Christendom as one promised unconditional loyalty to a power rejecting Christendom and religion in general.

Jakov Krotov: Does this mean that, in your opinion, the priests who refused obedience to the Moscow patriarchat in those days were anarchists in the best sense of the word?

Ignati Hanzhin: Undoubtedly.

Jakov Krotov: The Old Believers rejected the Pravoslav church from before the Soviet times because they never agreed with the archierei. Further, there are those who rejected the priestdom or people, whom we might call present-day Old Believers, who reject the Moscow patriarchat because it engages in oil and wodka trade and lobbies with he government. In the Old Believers' church on Rogozh cemetery or at the railway station Byelorusski in Moscow you won't see the people selling or consuming wodka or cigarettes, they have a very anarchist relationship to the authorities. Could we describe their attitude as a model of Christian anarchism?

Ignati Hanzhin: I wouldn't describe their attitude as a model of Christian anarchism. Christian anarchism is not a matter of simply rejecting links with authorities, godless or not. Power is always very far from Christian thinking. Christian anarchism means personal freedom, communities of entirely free and equal people, people who have their own opinion, who are able to disagree, to live as free people in their community. This means of necessity rejection of authoritarianism and of dictatorship in one's own community too. You won't find that among the Old Believers nor in any of the old Russian sects.

(Observation of a listener)

Jakov Krotov: Fortunately, God is a great anarchist, God's spirit is not a matter of labels. You may find God's spirit in the Moscow patriarchat, among Old Believers, among Protestants, among Catholics, but it is not necessarily in any of those circles. God is a great anarchist.

(Question of a listener)

Jakov Krotov: Many people in Russia to-day see anarchism as the cause of Russian totalitarianism. This may seem paradoxical but the master of paradox Boris Paramonov wrote that power hypertrophy and totalitarianism in Russia are a reaction to the anarchism and the ungovernability of the Russian people. In the Kremlin they must be happy with this idea. Unfortunately, the truth is in something else. Man fears freedom, it's easier under the yoke of the anti-Christ, of Statehood than under the sweet and light yoke of Jesus Christ, our Lord. One can, of course, not be an anarchist or a Christian anarchist but yet be a follower of Jesus Christ, provided one realises that, as followers of Christ, we are obliged to be free and to decide for ourselves and to not leave decisions to the State.

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