Pro-union Jesus?

December 26, 2012 at 12:35 am (Christianity, Christmas, James P. Cannon, Jim D, trotskyism, unions, United States)

Jesus casting money lenders from the temple

Casting the money-lenders out of the temple

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.


  1. indytony said,

    You are right that this is well written – a compelling case against pro-capitalist clergy. In fact, the only flaw I find in it is one word – “crucifiction”. To question the historical validity of the crucifixion of Jesus is more foolish than saying the moon landing was staged.

  2. Rosie said,

    Small point:- Matthew 21:12,13

    “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

    And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

    It’s moneychangers, not lenders. Evidently they were raking in commission, not charging extortionate interest.

    Re proper wages for natives or immigrants:-

    Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.

    Deuteronomy 24:14–15

  3. Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

    it’s impossible to separate the economic world into a good productive side and a bad financial side; the two are inseparable. The monetary surpluses generated in production—the profits of capitalist businesses—accumulate over time and demand some sort of outlet: bank deposits, bonds, stocks, whatever. It’s going to be that way until we replace capitalism with something radically different.

    There’s also a curious affinity between these financially oriented critiques and classical anti-Semitism that helps explain why the two go together so nicely. Several writers (like Moishe Postone and Slavoj Zizek) have noted that a lot of the imagery of classic anti-Semitism—greed, deviousness, the hunger for money—separates out some of the bad features of capitalism and pins them all to the mythical demonized figure of “The Jew.”

    Let’s leave the paranoid oversimplifications to the far right, where they belong. thank you.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    Yes, Will, antisemitism is a very serious matter. For instance, from this guy:

    Lately Badiou got into a fierce controversy within the confines of Parisian intellectual life. It started in 2005 with the publication of his “Circonstances 3: Portées du mot ‘juif'” – The Uses of the Word “Jew”.[7] This book generated a strong response with calls of Badiou being labelled Anti-Semitic. The wrangling became a cause célèbre with articles going back and forth in the French newspaper Le Monde and in the cultural journal “Les temps modernes.” Linguist and Lacanian philosopher Jean-Claude Milner, a past president of Jacques Derrida’s Collège international de philosophie, has accused Badiou of Anti-Semitism.[8]

  5. daveK said,

    I dont think Cannon is trying to claim Jesus for the left. But I agree doing so is a slippery road.

    The kind of Tony Benn position of quoting bits from the Sermon of the mount has several problems.

    – Whatever your motive, it alienates non christians and puts you on the Christian side in sectarian conflicts. Ghandi use of Hindu mystism undermined the secular united independence movement and lost him a hearing amongst muslims fearing Hindu nationalism, despite of Ghandi’s often non sectarian approach.

    – The Gospel also says Jesus said many reactionary things. Not least about divorce. Other stuff is often pacifist or quiescent- “Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s” etc.

    However in polemics agaist clergy or chritians it is fair to point out that both from what we can make out from History and from the gospel the jesus they puport to worship was no fan of wealth, hierarchy and the ruling class of his day.

    One thing the gospels dont have Jesus doing is saying anything particularly about Homosexuality.

  6. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    There is not one skerrick of historical evidence that ‘Jesus’ ever existed*, his existence is attested solely by mythology. That particular crucifixion never happened, although the jolly and charming Romans made up for it with hundreds of thousands of others (murder, terrorism and casual brutality were their stock in trade).

    Engaging with the obscurantist mumbo jumbo is arrant silliness and is to be discouraged.

    * the reference in Josephus is a later interpolation.

  7. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    …because if you are engaging with obscurantist mumbo jumbo, you may as well co-opt King Arthur, Beowulf, the monkey god, the Olympian gods or Osiris and Isis, as they are equally ‘valid’ cultural markers.

  8. Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

    Badiou’s enemies have groundlessly accused him of antisemitism. They are all scum. But what that has to do with my comment previous is a mystery.

    • bler4egHH omceonmretatry said,

      I think the key to the mystery is GyMs multilayered befuddlement:

      1. I once quoted Badiou in the cooments of this ere BllrerGGHj – GyM thinks that me and you are the sayMer persern
      2. GyM thinks that citing an author meens that U enderse everythING they’ve evah said evaH and that u hev to persernnaly answer four eververthing bad they’ve evAH sed/dun. if u point out to GyM that he regularly cites an array of shits he quotes Orwell bak at U.
      3. GyM thiNKs that blocK cut n pasting part of a wikipedia entry is sum sort of killa blow argument or sum shit

      I think that werz the three stage logIC of GyM;s latest brane fart –

  9. Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

    Bourdieu, who is far more interesting than wankers like Derrida… It is interesting how the French colonial experience has
    produced so many philosophers and thinkers … jim denham — is he icelandic?

    • daggi said,

      You’re getting confused with Jímmi Denhamssón

  10. Ben said,

    The money changers at the temple provided an important service to the pilgrims who went up to Jerusalem to fulfill their religious obligations. Since many of those who came were from abroad, they needed money changers to enable them to purchase animals for sacrifice and produce for offerings. The Gospels say that Jesus was angered by the noise and bustle that the presence of the money changers brought, but it is equally likely that his antagonism was actually directed towards their clients, and was an expression of Galilean nativism and chauvinism against the Diaspora.

    • Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) said,

      except jEezass never existed. never did, never has, never will.

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