What follows is from The Militant, paper of the American SWP (nothing to do with the Brit organisation of the same name) of April 26, 1947*. I’m never sure about attempts to claim Jesus for the left, but this is a good effort, written with panache and brimming with righteous anger:
What Do They Know About Jesus?
By James P. Cannon
Did you see what I saw in the paper this morning? Thursday, April 17? It took the taste out of my breakfast. The Wall Street money-sharks, pressing their anti-labor drive on all fronts, now claim they have lined up God and Jesus Christ for the open shop. The New York Times reports: “Six hundred thirty-seven clergymen attached to various Protestant churches have joined in attacking the closed shop as a violation of basic teachings of the Bible, the American Council of Christian Churches, 15 Park Row, announced today.”
What do you know about that? And how do you think it happened? I wasn’t present when the deal was cooked up, but knowing whom these theological bunk-shooters serve and from whom they gets their orders, I can visualize the proceedings and tell how it happened, in essence if not in precise detail.
The top profit-hogs very probably had a meeting of their board of stategy down in Wall Street the other day and counted up the forces they had mobilized in the grand crusade to break up the unions and beat down the workers who are trying so desperately to make their wages catch up with the increasing cost of living. They checked off Congress, both the House and the Senate. They checked off the President and the courts. They checked off the daily newspapers, from one end of the country to the other, and found a 100 percent score on that front. Then they called the roll of radio commentators, and made a note to put pressure for the firing of the remaining two or three half-liberal “news analysts” on the air who are not going along 100 per cent.
On the whole their situation looked pretty good, but they had to acknowledge to themselves that public opinion is not yet responding to the union-busting program with any great enthusiasm. Then one of the union-busters — most probably one of their “idea-men” — got a bright idea. “Let’s send someone around the corner to the American Council of Christian Churches at 15 Park Row”, he said, “and tell them to start singing for their supper. Tell them to put God in the statement, and be sure to ring in Jesus Christ.”
No sooner said than done — but good. Now comes the public statement signed by 637 clerical finks who state that the closed shop (they mean the union shop) violates freedom of conscience and the Eight Commandement, “Thou shalt not steal”. They appeal to Christ on the ground that the union shop violates “the individual’s responsibility to God” and obliges Christain men to be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, they say is wrong and not according to Jesus.
Well, I feel like saying to these strikebreaking sky-pilots what Carl Sandberg once said to an anti-labour evangelist 30 years ago: “Here you come tearing your shirt, yelling about Jesus. I want to know what in the hell you know about Jesus.” I don’t know too much myself, but if the only accounts of him we have are true, they called him “the Carpenter”; and he once took a whip and drove the money-lenders out of the temple. “Ye have made it a den of thieves”, he shouted, in white-hot anger.
And what have you done, you 637 fake-pious pulpit pounders who serve the moneyed interests against the people? You have made it a den of theives and liars too. You have the gall to represent the lowly Nazerene as a scab-herder; and to tell the Christian workers, who revere Him as the friend and associate of the publicans and sinners, of all the poor and the lowly, that they should not be “yoked together with unbelievers” in a union to protect their common interests. That’s a lie and a defamation. You’re simply trying to serve the rich against the poor, to help the rich in their campaign to break up the unions, which are the only protection the poor people have.
And don’t try to fool anybody with the statement that you are in favor of unions “properly conducted” — under open-shop conditions. We know what you mean by this mealy-mouthed formulation. Such unions, as Mr. Dooley once said, are unions which have no strikes, no dues and very few members.
And leave Jesus out of your lying propaganda, you scribes and pharisees, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Every time you mention His name you libel Him, regardless of whether the story of His life and death be taken as literal truth or legend. The Carpenter of Nazareth has been badly misrepresented in many ways for many years, but your attempt to pass Him off as a union-buster goes just a little bit too far. It is just about the dirtiest trick that has ever been played on Jesus Christ since the crucifiction.
*Republished in ‘Notebook Of An Agitator’, Pathfinder Press, 1958 and 1973.