The Soviet Light to the Nations (Roland Boer)


As part of a longer study concerning Stalin’s extensive use of biblical imagery, texts and indeed interpretation (to the point of key biblical texts becoming part of the Soviet Constitution of 1936), I have been intrigued by the persistence biblical image of the light to the nations. This biblical motif appears in three ways: either leading to the Land of the Soviets (the Mosaic form); leading others to come to or to emulate the Soviet Motherland (the Isaianic form); or as a star from the East (the Matthean form).

Before the October Revolution, the party itself was at times depicted as the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, lighting up the ‘road to the “promised land” called the socialist world’.[1] Later, the socialist newspapers newspapers came to light ‘the way for working people’.[2] Indeed, the Republic of Soviets itself offered to all peoples under oppression and exploitation as a ‘pillar of their hopes of deliverance … pointing the path to their emancipation’.[3] The Exodus echoes can hardly be missed.[4]

More powerfully still, the Land of the Soviets, once it had achieved socialism, became the great light to the nations, ‘a living beacon illuminating the path to socialism’.[5] At this Isaianic level, the Soviet Union became an exemplar, a model for others to follow. Here Stalin builds on an image from Lenin. Thus, the socialist Republic of Soviets will be the ‘torch of international socialism’, by which Lenin meant ‘an example to all the labouring masses’. Against those who seeks to extinguish this torch are those who strive to ‘hold the torch aloft and to fan its flame’. The task before them is as follows: ‘Comrades, I do not doubt that you will do all you can that the torch may burn bright and illumine the road of all the oppressed and enslaved’ – so much so that it will burst ‘into full flame’ and light ‘similar torches … in all parts of the world’.[6]

Even more, the nations would come to the Soviet Union, drawn by the light to the nations. More specifically, the workers of the world have heard of the new way of life in the ‘workers’ state called the Soviet Union’, undertaking a ‘pilgrimage’ there and peering into ‘every nook and cranny’.[7] They did not believe what they read, but wanted ‘to convince themselves by their own experience that the proletariat is capable of building a new industry, of creating a new society’.[8] Why? It was because the USSR was the ‘shock brigade’ of the world proletariat,[9] because of the ‘world significance’[10] of the revolution, so much so that they became the advanced detachment, the vanguard of world revolution.[11] For Stalin, this is was the true meaning of socialism in one country.[12]

But let me close this brief exposition with the New Testament version, drawing on the account of the Magi in Matt 2:2, 9. Thus, the new revolutionary movements happening in Asia may be seen as the ‘light from the East’.[13] More tellingly, Leninism is nothing less than the ‘guiding star’ which ‘lights up the path’ of the truly wise ones of the world, the ‘practical workers in their daily work’.[14]

[1] I.V. Stalin, Works, vol. 1 (Moscowa nd London: Foreign Languages Publishing House and Red Star Press, 1953-1986), p. 80; see also vol. 7, p. 310.

[2] Works, vol. 9, p. 172; see also vol. 5, p. 402.

[3] Works, vol. 6, p. 52.

[4] Ex 13:21-22; 14:19-20; 33:9-10; Num 12:5; 14:14; Deut 31:15; Neh 9:12, 19; Ps 99:7.

[5] Works, vol. 4, p. 62; see also vol. 4, p. 277; vol. 14, p 173. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6

[6] Works, vol. 9, pp. 154-55.

[7] Works, vol. 7, pp. 54, 57.

[8] Works, vol. 7, p. 133; see also vol. 6, p. 310; vol. 7, pp. 166-69, 290-91, 298-99; vol. 13, pp. 42-43.

[9] Works, vol. 13, pp. 42-43, 387.

[10] Works, vol. 6, pp. 416, 418, 419; see also vol. 10, 244-55.

[11] Works, vol. 5, p. 84; see also vol. 5, pp. 182, 241; vol. 6, pp. 416, 418; vol. 8, pp. 227-28; vol. 10, pp. 173-76; vol. 13, pp. 163-64, 175, 254, 263.

[12] Works, vol. 5, pp. 108, 112, 183; vol. 6, pp. 414-20; vol. 7, p. 171; vol. 8, pp. 64-80, 101-4, 227-28, 341; vol. 9, pp. 21-26.

[13] Works, vol. 4, p. 181-86.

[14] Works, vol. 7, p. 254.

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