Karl Radek

A History Lesson for the Archbishop of Canterbury –
and a History Lesson on the Archbishops of Canterbury [1]

(3 May 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 35 [17], 3 May 1923, pp. 303–304.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The clergy of England, headed by Randall T. Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, have issued a protest “against the religious persecution in Russia.” As a proof of the existence of this persecution, the English clerical confraternity avails itself of the trial of the Catholic Archbishop Zepliak, the impending trial of the orthodox Archbishop Tichon, and – oh horror! – the arrest of the Rabbi of Gomel, about which we have heard nothing, but which is being trumpeted throughout the English press with the object of demonstrating that: If even the timid Jewish Rabbis are being persecuted, then there be can no doubt whatever that in Russia, Beelzebub is wrestling with the Archangels!

When the production of brandy was prohibited in America, the schnaps manufacturers inaugurated a campaign compared with which, even the action of the Archbishop of Canterbury is mere child’s play. Hurt in their finest feelings and in their pockets, the schnaps manufacturers marched up with the great cannon of “liberty of the American citizen”, which liberty they were convinced was being trampled underfoot by the prohibition of the manufacture of spirituous liquors. The manufacture of religious spiritual drinks is no less profitable. And therefore we fully comprehend the class solidarity of the English parsons with the Russian. But despite our full sympathy for the reverend English manufacturers of spiritual schnaps, we shall none the less point out io them the many errors they have fallen into in asserting that there is religious persecution going on in Soviet Russia. In order to show what little cause there is for speaking of anything like religious persecution in Soviet Russia, we shall adduce a few examples from the history of England, especially from the history of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the hope that our English comrades will extend this lesson to a course of instruction, which will be highly useful, not so much for the Archbishop of Canterbury, as for the English workers themselves.

How the English kings induced the English church to submit to the state

We communists are opponents of the liberal conception of the history of the church. The liberal bourgeoisie has flatly denied any merit whatever to the church, we are not such inexeorable parson slayers. During the first period of the middle ages, the church was the source not only of spiritual, but also of technical culture. The church not only preserved the inheritance of the Roman Empire, but also that of the eastern. It taught the Teutonic barbarians, who had, for the most part, scarcely crept forth from their forest ravines, how to carry on agriculture and handicrafts. It established communications between the different countries of Europe. And it is not to be wondered at that the church demanded the position of supreme authority over the kingdoms of the middle ages, that it required the kings to regard themselves as its subjects. But scarcely had the feudal state become firmly established, when tbe struggle over the primacy broke out between the kings and the church.

The English king Henry II resolved to put an end to the independence of the church. He demanded that the priests be punished like ordinary mortals for common crimes and crimes against the state. In order to realize this aim, he appointed one of the best educated clerics of that time, Thomas A’Beckett, as Archbishop of Canterbury. But Thomas A’Beckett, having ascended his archbishop’s throne, wanted to shear his sheep without royal interference. He came into conflict with Henry II, he called upon the clergy and the people to fight against the royal power, and adorned this struggle for clerical domination with the catchword: liberty of religion. Henry II, although a good Catholic, was naturally not able to look calmly on at these priestly machinations. Thomas A’Beckett had to fly to France, where he continued his machinations against his native country, aided by the enemies of England. The pope of Rome feared that Thomas A’Beckett’s extraordinary zeal might injure the church, and therefore commanded him to make a compromise with the royal power. Thomas A’Beckett returned to England, but was murdered through royal instigation. The king of course publicly expressed his great regret at this sad event, but this regret could not recall Thomas A’Beckett to life.

But Thomas A’Beckett did not rest after his death, but began working miracles from his tomb in Canterbury, miracles not yet prohibited at that time. Thousands made pilgrimages to Beckett’s tomb, and the monks of Canterbury earned huge profits. And as the church was thoroughly capable of making a business calculation, it resolved to increase its revenues from the martyrdom and the miracles of the resurrected saint. Thorold Rodgers, professor of economics at the Oxford University, a friend of Cobden and Bright, that is to say, a man not connected with communist cut-throats, but with exceedingly moderate liberal circles, described in his book Six Centuries of Work and Wages, published 40 years ago, the victory of the archbishops of Canterbury in the following words:

“Beckett died in the winter (a season very unsuitable for travelling); therefore the monks begged the pope for permission to change the day of martyrdom and veneration of the saint to the summer. They bargained with one another long and energetically, as the pope demanded one half of the gross takings. But as the monks declared that they could not undertake the business on these terms, the pope contented himself with half of the clear profits.”

Henry II emerged as the formal victor, but in reality the church was stronger than he, and even John Lackland fell into a state of complete subjection to the pope of Rome. But circumstances changed when strife began within the church itself, enabling the regal power in England to resume supremacy. Henry VIII had better luck than Henry II. Not only did he subordinate the whole church to himself by having himself proclaimed head of the church in the year 1531, but he began to fleece the church according to all the laws of a profitable business concern. The yearly revenues of the church were estimated at that time at 320,000 pounds, and of this sum the king laid claim to one half. He plundered the monasteries, deprived them of their treasures. He closed the small monasteries and drove out the monks. He was clever enough, however, not to interfere with the princes of the church, but rather to share his gains with them. In a 17th century pamphlet written at the time of the English revolution the “reformation” of Henry VIII is described as follows:

“Henry VIII, having supplanted the pope by his royal authority, had no intention of alleviating the unhappy situation of the people, he merely replaced the foreign yoke (of the pope of Rome), by chains forged at home; be divided the profits between himself and his archbishops, for whom the Roman pope was entirely superfluous so long as they could retain their dignities and their possessions.”

One of the first amongst those dignitaries of the church who in this case, forgot to rail about the liberty of religion, but on the contrary prostrated themselves before the English despots, was the forerunner of our present defender of “religious liberty”, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer. This holy man was so accommodating in the service of kings that he consented to divorce Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon, although this marriage had been blessed by the pope of Rome himself. The pretty girl Anna Boleyn had captivated the king, and the Archbishop of Canterbury decided that all the dogmas of the church and all the decisions of its head, the pope, could serve as a comfortable cushion for the epicurean king. And when Henry had tired of Anna Boleyn and decided to have her beheaded, in order to be free to take another wife, again the Archbishop of Canterbury raised no difficulty.

Since then there has been no struggle between the English kings and the church. On the contrary, the kings have been the actual protectors of the church. And when a movement set in the democratic strata of the population, aiming, not at the extermination oi religion – God forbid – but merely at the abolition of the unprecedented power enjoyed by the bishop over the souls of the flock, James I in the year 1604, expressed himself as follows, to a deputation of Puritans:

“I, the king, will be lord in this country. The hierarchy of the church must be maintained. It is the best support of the throne. I shall teach these Puritans to submit to the church, and if they do not submit, I shall banish them from the country or do worse to them: I shall have them hanged and be done with them.”

Thus, there is nothing surprising in the fact that since this time, the bishop and the English rulers have been the best of friends. “Protect us with the sword, and we shall protect you with the pen.” – Thus they declared in their proclamation of 1624.

Let us sum up this first chapter in our history lesson:

At first the church attempted to establish its rule over the propertied classes, with the result that the Archbishop of Canterbury was beheaded. But when the feudal power, the kings and the landowners, frightened the church out of its wits by plundering the lesser clergy, and dividing the booty with the archbishops and bishops, the princes in the church, then these latter defenders of the faith snowed themselves not only willing to pander to every kingly desire, to every landowner’s whim, but they even allowed the kings to interfere in all matters of religion and the church, and to determine what religion is.

Another fact. A considerable portion of the property of the present English aristocracy originated in the church property robbed under Henry VIII, who divided it among the spiritual and secular oligarchs. When the descendants of these robbers of church property protest in the name of religion against our “robbery” of the treasures of the church, every thinking English workman must laugh in their faces.

But – thus the Archbishop of Canterbury – why do you republicans and revolutionists mutate the feudal kings?

But your Grace will allow me to say: In the first place you have never broken with this feudal past, in which the Archbishops of Canterbury played a very active part. And then you are of the opinion that your protest carries special weight precisely because you fill the office occupied by the oldest archbishops of England. But to come to the essential point, we must tell you: That which the Soviet power is now doing has nothing whatever in common with that which was done by the feudal kings to the church with that to which your church submitted when it saw that the royal arm was powerful. The Council of People’s Commissaries has not proclaimed itself head of the church; it has no desire to appoint bishops, and makes no attempt to lay down 31 points for the church, as Henry VIII did. The Soviet government permits every citizen to believe what he will, and to carry on religious propaganda, just as it permits unbelieving citizens to carry on anti-religious propaganda. It does not interfere with the internal affairs of the church, it only demands that the clergy, like all other citizens, respect the laws of the republic. Henry VIII plundered the church in order to make presents to his toadies, archbishops, and courtiers, and the English church was mute when its princes received gifts from the king, derived from the property robbed from the church. But the Soviet power commanded the treasures of the church to be gathered in the save the starving Iraqi death. The Zepliaks and Tichons, who prostrated themselves before Tsarism, resisted the measures taken by the Soviet government, measures aimed at saving millions of human beings from death by starvation. And the Archbishop of Canterbury who defends these priests is a worthy successor of that archbishop of Canterbury Cranmer, who trod underfoot the commands of the pope of Rome in order to satisfy a monarch’s lust. His Grace appeals for religious liberty. We will recall to his memory another chapter from the history of the Archbishop of Canterbury.


How the Archbishops of Canterbury defended religious liberty
against the rebellious workers and peasants

It was in the 14th century. At this time the English church was in a state of utter confusion. The monks, high and low, occupied themselves with debauchery; they robbed the population and sent a considerable portion of the proceeds to the pope, who was the tool of the French kings. A movement arose among the educated classes, under the leadership of Wyclif, an ecclesiastic and professor at the university of Oxford. Wyclif demanded that the English church should separate itself from the pope of Rome, and preached that the priests should live simply, as Jesus Christ lived. These sermons of Wyclif met with the approval of the textile workers, who at that time lived wretched lives and were not pleased at being shorn by the priests. Wydif also found many followers among the peasants, who were being crushed by the priests and the landowners. The movement known as the Lollard movement began, and was joined even by a section of the poorer clergy, headed oy John Ball. John Ball’s agitation expressed the struggle against the exploitation by the priests and landowners. We take the following speech of this monk from a contemporary chronicle:

“Good people, things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villains and gentleman. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are clothed in velvet, and warm in their furs and their ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread; and we oat-cake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labor, the rain and wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and of our toil that these men hold their state.”

This speech contains nothing against religion; on the contrary, John Ball appeals to the holy scriptures. But the Archbishop of Canterbury held this speech to be blasphemy, had John Ball imprisoned and excommunicated. John Ball got off pretty lightly, but thousands of Lollards were burnt, and in this persecution the leading role was played by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Arundell. Professor Thorold Rodgers, mentioned above, writes on this archbishop as follows:

“He is known as the author of the law for burning heretics at the stake, a law compelling the authorities of the county of Canterbury to carry out the death sentence. The princes of the church declared, with revolting hypocrisy, that they did not wish to kill, and induced the king to issue the regulation obliging the authorities to commit that which they would not do with their own hands.

“Arundell is also the author of another law: On the pretext of combatting heresy, the lesser clergy were forbidden to preach without permission; this permission had to be paid for. The purpose of this measure was to ensure that the king should hear nothing of the dissatisfaction aroused by his regime.”

The history of the archbishop of Canterbury shows us that:

When the king proclaims himself head of the church, when he determines its doctrines, and even when he plunders it a trifle, all this is “freedom of religion” so long as be divides the spoil with the archbishop. But when the pious workers and peasants, basing their demands on the holy scriptures, ask that the priests renounce their luxury, their gormandizing and drinking, that they live with the people – then this is a blasphemy for which the Archbishop of Canterbury has thousands of working people executed.

It is now clear that the archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, is fighting, in the so-called year of our Lord 1923, for the same aims as his predecessors fought in the 14th and 16th centuries. The priest John Ball, who preached the truths of communism in the crude phraseology of the 14th century, was as heartily hated by the then archbishop of Canterbury as the “agents of Moscow” are hated by the archbishop of Canterbury of the 20th century. Why should his Grace not step forward as the defender of Tichon, the champion of Tsarism, of the capitalists, and the landowners! But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall T. Davidson, is not actuated merely by hate of the Lollard movement which has risen from the dead and is victorious in far Russia in this 20th century. He is not acting out of sympathy with the Russian landowners and Russian capitalists only. Our history lesson must conclude with a leaf from the present:

The incorruptible relics of Saint Urquhardt

Once upon a time there lived a follower of the true faith, an Englishman by the name of Leslie Urquhardt. As in the days of old devout monks often took up their staffs and wandered into far off countries, where the savages knew nothing of trousers or shirts, and attempted to teach these wild beings that they had immortal souls and were the children of God, even though they had nothing wherewith to cover their nakedness, – so this monk of the church of capital, Urquhardt, made a pilgrimage into the savage land of the Russians, in order to there propagate the holy faith in the mighty god of capital. And like all high priests, Leslie Urquhardt managed to feed himself so well in our country that he can now only speak of it as a Paradise Lost. The Russian savages insulted this holy man. They offered resistance to the Tsar, to the landowners, and to the gods of capital, and even drove Urquhardt out of his factories.

It is not every saint who cau be characterized by patience. Many of the saints in the days of old drew their swords and behaved very much as if they were ordinary brawlers. The holy Urquhardt did not belong to the patient ones. He ran to Koltchak, and wanted to tear from us by force the people’s treasures which had been taken from him. He placed himself at the head of the crusade against Soviet Russia. His spirit inspired all the knights of the pen in capitalist England, and many were the appeals which these published for the annihilation of this nest of robbery and blasphemy. But when Soviet Russia was victorious, then the holy Urquhardt decided that it was consistent with his holiness to pardon, he made up his mind to strike a bargain with us. He shared the gains with the devil, and promised to serve him faithfully and honorably. But the Soviet devil, when he read the contract, found that he was going to be cheated, and declined to do business. The holy man is now sitting in his cell on the Exchange and waiting for the Bolshevist miscreants to reform. A hundred tunes did he promise to wait in patience, but when the uproar began with the trial of Ziepliak and the shouting of Budkievich, he could contain himself no longer, he assembled the offended creditors of Russia, and proposed to them that they demand that relations with Soviet Russia be broken off, not only on account of the persecution of the church, but in consideration of the fact that – trade with Russia brings but little profit. He is not inclined to carry on business with the Bolshevist devil for such small gains.

As we have already said, Leslie Urquhardt is a holy man, and knows how to work miracles. When he feels sad, the leader of the Labor Party (Clynes) sends us telegrams and begs the Soviet government not to grieve the ambassador of the god of capital. When Urquhardt is of the opinion that pressure would be useful to expedite the concessions of the Soviet government, then the Archbishop of Canterbury weeps over the suppressed rights of the Catholic, Jewish, and orthodox churches.

A piece of advice to Saint Urquhardt

Mr. Urquhardt, do not play with fire, or you will burn your fingers again. And you will have to change your religion again, as you had to after Koltchak’s defeat. Can you not wait a while? We are not so very hard hearted, and everything comes to him who waits.

A piece of advice to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Most reverend Dr. Randall T. Davidson! I, a man incompetent in matters of the church, have given you this lesson in history. If you persist in lying, then the Comintern will send you two experts on the subject who will compile for you such a history of the archbishopric of Canterbury as will make you sick. As it is not permissible to burn anybody at the stake in England today for such deeds, the good-for-nothing English communists will print this whole history, containing all your sins and the sins of your predecessors, and even the sins of their illegitimate children, and will have copies of this history distributed by the million. Why run this risk? It is much better that you sit quietly at home, eat your pudding, drink your porter, read English novels if that is not too tedious for you, and leave Soviet Russia alone!



1. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is the same prelate who, a few years ago, supported the introduction of Chinese Labor in the South African mines, pleading that it was “a regrettable necessity”. The reason which impelled the Soviet Government to bring Archbishop Zepliak and other clerical dignitaries to trial was the necessity of preserving the first Workers’ Republic from those who would withhold bread from its perishing population. The “regrettable necessity” which prompted His Grace to sanction the introduction of Chinese coolies working under slave conditions into the South African rand, was that of filling the coffers of cosmopolitan financiers controlling the rand mines. (Ed.)

Last updated on 14 September 2021