Pierre Pascal – What I Believe (1919)

[A translation of Ce que je crois (1919) from Pierre Pascal’s Mon journal de Russie: Tome 2, En communisme.]

[Pierre Pascal (1890- 1983) was a French Catholic Slavist and intellectual who, for a period of time, was a Bolshevik involved in the Russian Revolution, collaborated with Lenin and befriended Victor Serge.

While there is not much in English about Pierre Pascal’s early intellectual life, a short overview can be found in Piety and Politics: Catholic Revival and the Generation of 1905-1914 in France by Paul M. Cohen (1983):

Politically […] Pascal remembers having detested, along with many of his comrades, a “world in which we smelled decay everywhere.” Above all, he wrote in 1920, “I have always had an intimate and violent hatred for parliamentarianism, that dignified fungus of bourgeois decadence.11 Accordingly, Pascal became a monarchist, but he ranged himself firmly against the monarchism of Action Franchise, tied as it was to philosophical positivism and integral nationalism. “At Normale,” he recalls, “I campaigned against the three-year law. I preached to my Catholic comrades the anti-Christian, anti-Catholic character of patriotic idolatry.” To Maurras’ national monarchy, he opposed the universal divine-right monarchy of the Middle Ages, founded on the authority of the Pope and the temporal authority of the emperor, and he dreamed of recreating this Christian order under the joint auspices of the Pope and the Russian Czar. An admirer, in addition, of Péguy, Sangnier, and Hervé, he maintained that such a restored pan-European Christendom would have to be “harmonized with a rational social regime of justice and equality.” In service of his anti-liberalism, then, Pascal embraced at one and the same time the social vision of Catholic intransigence, Portal’s ecumenicism, monarchism, pacifism, and socialism.

pp. 238-239

From 1919 to 1926 he worked for the Comintern. He was initially optimistic about the revolution in Russian — he argued that it implemented the Magnificat — once stating that “In Soviet Russia children are kings”. Yet, as time went on, his optimism (privately) regarding the revolution began to falter, though he still worked in Russia, publishing and translating works.

According to J. Beecher, two events played an important role in his disillusionment with the revolution: “the crushing of the Kronstadt sailors’ rising and the condemnation of the Workers’ Opposition at the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party.”

Thus:

By his own account Pascal’s political sympathies early in 1921 went to Aleksandra Kollontai and the Workers’ Opposition. He translated Kollontai’s pamphlet The Workers’ Opposition immediately after its appearance in Russian and wrote later that “the theses of Kollontai pleased me because they expressed the doctrine closest to the original goals of the revolution: power to the soviets without the dictatorship of a minority, without bureaucracy, and with the running of the economy entrusted to workers’ unions.”

J. Beecher

Throughout this period, Pascal moved towards a more critical communist position. In 1926, he contributed articles to La Révolution prolétarienne, which was “a journal founded in Paris by the dissident French communists Alfred Rosmer and Pierre Monatte” (J. Beecher).

During the late 1920s Pascal led two working lives. One was at the Marx-Engels Institute. The other was his life as a scholar of seventeenth-century Russian religious history.

J. Beecher

Later on, in the 30s, he moved back to France and translated Russian works. Likewise, he became a professor at the École nationale des langues orientales vivantes. During this period he officially and publicly left the Communist movement as a result of the Stalinist purges. He spent much of his focus on Russian religious belief and Russian history. The only Pascal book in English is, coincidentally, from this period of focus, namely The religion of the Russian people (published in English in 1973).

He died on July 1st, 1983, at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

(A longer and more in-depth biography from MAITRON on Pierre Pascal is coming soon.)

More info on Pierre Pascal can be found in J. Beecher’s The Making and Unmaking of a French Christian Bolshevik: The Soviet Years of Pierre Pascal (2015) and Fr.-X. Coquin’s Witness To His Age: Pierre Pascal (1890-1983), Political and Intellectual Evolution (1994).]

What I Believe

Declaration to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Russia in December 1919

1. — Although the constant observation that has been made of my conduct should reveal my convictions more surely than any special […] confession, the attacks and perfidious insinuations which I have been the object of and the regrettable ease with which some of my respected comrades have welcomed them obliges me to write [a] didactic exposé of my philosophical conceptions.

2. — I am Catholic, that is to say, for a host of philosophical, historical, and moral reasons, too long to expose here, I consciously accept the truth of the doctrines taught by the Catholic Church.

Petit, Sadoul, Body, Pascal (Source)

3. — This opinion has only been strengthened and has become more and more deliberate in me with age, study, experience, and reflection. My way of thinking was known to Sadoul and my comrades Body and Petit, from the first days of my relations with them. It was admirably known by Sadoul the moment when, in a very exact manner by comrade Body in his January 28th letter, he had me named secretary of the Groupe Français. Moreover, Sadoul assured me that he had made my Catholic opinions known to comrades Lenin, Tchitcherine [Chicherin], and Steklov in the month of January 1919.

4. — I am communist, that is to say, I consciously accept the correctness of all the theoretical, political, historical, or tactical theses contained in the programme of the Russian communist party. I have not arrived at this position, as it has been said, by chance, nor as a result of superficial analogies between communism and Christianity. I have always been, by personal reflection, internationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-parliamentary. After study and experience I then adhered to the doctrine of historical materialism, the class struggle, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

5. — From the theoretical point of view, if my reason did not judge the teachings of the Church and those of communism as compatible, it would be nonetheless obliged, due to intrinsic reasons, to admit the truth of both. It could still make a choice between the one or the other, in accepting, for example, only the practical part of communism, or else in reducing Catholicism to a vague Christianity without dogma. But my position is different: I judge communism and Catholicism, as they are and without distortion, not only as compatible, but necessary to each other and mutually complementary. 

6. — From the practical point of view

  1. I consider, therefore, that it due to a misunderstanding that the majority of Catholics and the majority of communists consider themselves fundamentally and necessarily enemies of each other;
  2. I consider that this misunderstanding can be explained historically and [that it] played an indispensable role in the development of communism and Catholicism (thus a certain anti-clericalism contributed to drawing the Church back to its true nature);
  3. I think that every epoch has its specific character, and the current epoch is characterized by the construction of the communist society, the task of each, and mine in particular, is to devote their activity to this construction. [Whole] doing this, I do not forget to fulfill, at the same time, my religious ideal.

7. — The misunderstanding between Catholicism and communism originates from the fact that the majority of Catholics ignore and distort the most elementary principles of Catholicism. — Catholicism is a living organism, ceaselessly developing, whose form is not in any way linked to that of the current Catholic Church, whose doctrine is not linked to any theological conception (especially that of St. Thomas Aquinas, dating from the 13th century) and whose economic and social relations infinitely exceed the conditions of a given epoch.

  1. the Catholic Church, even in its well-known current state, teaches nothing contrary to the exact sciences, nor to positive philosophy, nor to scientific socialism. Thus, unless one condemns a priori all philosophical speculation, one cannot dismiss the conception of a God defined by way of negation and analogy. In the Summa of St. Thomas himself, it is easy to find teachings on the role of private property coincident with Marxist doctrine. Catholic thinkers have accurately condemned capitalism as it has emerged. Catholic politics and morals resemble nothing of the sentimental or Tolstoisant caricature which has been traced: it is strictly positive. Government is established by the people and for them; if it becomes more harmful than useful, it must be overturned, even by force, by revolution. On the part of the State, capital punishment and war are necessary methods in certain cases. On the part of the individual, positive and virile activity is superior to inert humility. Such is the current authentic teaching of Catholicism.
  2. But the Catholic Church is in a state of perpetual evolution, its faithful are by no means obliged to hold to its current official teaching. They are free to anticipate or precede the progress of doctrine in accordance with social progress, the political form of the Church, its doctrine on the family and on the State, its conception of miracles, its metaphysics, etc… are already evolving and will continue evolving.

I am invited to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which opens on December 5, 1919:

Cam PASCAL