ActiveHistory.ca is on a hiatus for the winter break, and will return to daily posts in early January. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our favourite seasonal posts. Thank you to all our contributors, guest editors, and readers for making 2018 a very successful year. Happy holidays to all and we look forward to continuing our work in 2019!
The following post by Christo Aivalis was originally featured on December 17, 2015.
If one peruses their televisions, computers, and streetscapes, they can’t help but forget that we have been in the throes of the Christmas season since November. But this form of Christmas celebration, tied so deeply with capitalism, belies the transformative optimism Christmas provided working-class socialists in the Depression, and still today. Much as Pope Francis’ criticisms of capitalism and consumerist Christmas celebrations amidst war offer a call to change, so did the Christian Left seek a new social order in the Great Depression via the message of Christ and Christmas. For them, the egalitarian and socialist ideals of a 2000 year old Humble Nararane Carpenter spoke the society they wished to build.
While much has been written about Christianity socialism among ministers-turned-politicians like Tommy Douglas, J.S. Woodsworth, and Stanley Knowles, less has been said about Christian socialism among Canadian workers and trade unionists. Yet if we look back to Depression-era trade union newspapers, we see a movement utilizing Christian scripture and imagery in order to agitate for substantive political, economic, and social reforms. After all, numerous contributors argued that Christ was not only God reborn, but was God reborn as a humble Nazarene carpenter: a workingman sent to bring a gospel of justice and equality for the downtrodden. Christ came not as a king, but as a pauper, and in so doing showed his allegiances. This identification with Christ as a radical workingman led many to propose a Christian social order that struck at the core of social and economic inequality, private property:
A theology which teaches that God is Mammon’s silent partner would necessarily be suspect in an age of folk upheaval…. Property needs not God to protect it…Jesus announced “Good News”[:] namely, that Heaven is passionately on the side of the people against the despotic tendencies of property; and under that leadership a messianic passion for men is announcing itself. The trouble is the working people at large have not yet come to behold The Carpenter.
Not all pieces were necessarily so strident, but in general, there was a pronouncement that Christianity was incompatible with capitalism, at least as largely practiced. The solution for many in this case was finding in Christian theology a refuge from the cruelty of capitalist motivations, chief among them profit and property: “For it is written, ‘thou shalt not steal.’ Unhappily, our modern idea is based more truly on the idea ‘thou shalt steal.’ The whole system of Profit is theft.”