In 1947, the poet W.H. Auden published a book-length poem entitled “The Age of Anxiety,” which later inspired a symphony by Leonard Bernstein and a ballet by Jerome Robbins. It includes these lines spoken by Rosetta, the Jewish protagonist: “Lies and lethargies police the world/ In its periods of peace.”
This couplet could be a fitting characterization of the Cold War, a time when each superpower tried to bluff and coerce the other into accepting its socioeconomic hegemony and credo—all the while loudly proclaiming its benevolent, apolitical intentions. Were we at war? Not quite. At peace, then? No, something in between.
Whether framed as detente, containment, peaceful coexistence or mutually-assured destruction, the governing ideologies of the Cold War carried the spiritual weight of established religions, sometimes exerted against religious practice itself, or set in opposition to the breathless consumerism attendant upon late-stage capitalism, even as a foil to communism's categorical insistence upon no religion at all.
The reports that follow—all found in Joint Publications Research Service Reports, 1957-1995—span that range. We have communist critiques of mainstream Christianity and mysticism, Islamic pushback against communism in Indonesia, and two secular examples of intractable bourgeois tendencies in the Soviet Union and in America.
What is the Harm of Baptism?
Agitator (Agitator), Moscow, No. 20, November 1960