PRINT January 1973

For God and Country

The critique of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism . . . . The foundation of this critique is the following: man makes religion, religion does not make man.
—Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (opening lines)

THE CRITIQUE OF COMPETITIVE CAPITALISM, in Marx, is motivated by a root concern with the topic of alienation, or, rather more abstractly, with the relation between human activity and human accomplishment. Human activity creates a range of “objects” including not only trucks and trains but social systems, values, technologies. Though these “objects” are originally fabricated for the gratification of man, within the historical process, these “objects” become independent of their original function. That is, more concretely, the state or the exchange system evolves from the role of service institution for the needs of man to autonomous entities whose needs must be served by man. Within the historical context, the state comes to presuppose war or the possibility of war as a basic justification of its existence. Hence, conscription. Dialectically, the need of the state has come to supersede the needs of man. The products of human activity come to enslave human activity.

For Marx, this process of inversion, alienation, is paradigmatically represented by religion. For religion is a product of man. Yet, it dominates man not only as a social institution; it inverts the relation of man and god cosmologically. Man made god; yet religion posits that god makes man. Theology bespeaks a primary, philosophical alienation of man from his metaphysical origins. For this reason, Marx depicts religion as a paradigmatic and (philosophically) primary source of alienation, and calls for the critique of religion as a prerequisite to the analysis of other forms of alienation.

It is within the context of Marxist theory that we can appraise the importance for Eisenstein of the sequence of shots entitled “For God and Country” in his film October. We know that Eisenstein planned to adapt Capital to the screen. Another way of saying this might be that Eisenstein envisioned his analytic editing techniques consummating, in an analogical sense, with the forms of analysis or analytic thought operative in Marx. In this context, the “God and Country” sequence acquires a special significance. First, because thematically, it initiates the critique of religion which is propaedeutic to the analysis of other forms of alienation, and thus prior to Capital. Second, because the formal structure of the sequence is instructive insofar as it represents, in “embryonic”1 form, the structure or method of editing Eisenstein envisioned to be analogous to the process of analysis. The relation between editing structures and ideology was important to Eisenstein. In his own silent work, there is an aspiration toward analysis and toward the rehearsal of the 57 analytic process. This represents a political as well as an esthestic commitment, i.e., a commitment to engendering and exercising the analytic attitude of the worker audience. In other words, Eisensteinian montage is coordinated with the effort to reshape the consciousness of the proletariat.

Putatively, Capital (Eisenstein’s), in its structure, would have engaged any audience in an intense exercise of cognition. But this preoccupation is already in evidence in the existing corpus of Eisenstein’s silent work. The “God and Country” sequence, an “embryo,” is a meeting point of past and future in Eisenstein. It is on a progressive continuum with Potemkin and Strike while it also yields an inkling of what Capital might have been like. That is, it affords the opportunity for understanding the way in which Eisenstein’s work is not only thematically but also formally committed to Marxism.

The idea of a film based on Capital (Marx’s) is mindboggling. How does one represent the labor theory of value? Yet there is reason to believe that Eisenstein’s assumption that he could film Capital was not unfounded. For the “God and Country” sequence takes as its subject matter not only the depiction of a mode of alienation, but the disproof of God’s existence. These matters are as “purely” conceptual as issues in Capital. Thus, it is not idle to speculate about the form of Capital on the basis of this sequence.

The “God and Country” sequence is embedded in that section of October that concerns Kornilov’s march on Petrograd. The sequence begins with titles—“For God and Country,” “For God,” “God.” There is a church. Then there is a shot of a Baroque statue of Christ, not the crucified Christ, but Christ the King, Christ in his majesty replete with solar radiations. Christ is intercut with oblique shots of Christian churches. The image of Christ is repeated. More churches. A relation between the figure of Christ and the theological-economic-political institution of Christianity is established through juxtaposition. That is, the Christ is the Christ of Christianity. The third appearance of the Christ image is followed by a statue of a pagan god and then by oblique shots of an Asiatic place of worship. The Christ and the Christian theological system is juxtaposed with a competing theological system. What follows is a barrage of shots of statues of ten or eleven more and different gods. This ends the “God” unit of the chain.

The “Country” unit is more complex, for its polemic presupposes the “God” unit. It begins with a series of shots of military medals and epaulettes. The opening shots of the film, a statue of a czar falling apart, are recut and projected in reverse motion and intercut with images of gods from the “God” unit. An incense burner swinging rapidly is also cut into the sequence. There is a cut to a bishop, then a cut to Kornilov. Interestingly, both the incense burner and the bishop are shots from an earlier point in the film where they functioned to celebrate the fall of the monarchy. In this sequence, they function to endorse the royalist Kornilov, the man on horseback. There are several shots of Kornilov. Finally, he adopts a pointing gesture. There is a cut to a statue of Napoleon, on horseback, similarly gesturing. Kerensky has been previously juxtaposed with a statue of Napoleon, and this particular juxtaposition was also based on a similarity of gesture. So there are two Napoleons—Kerensky and Kornilov. Eisenstein, using both split screens and individual shots that emphasize opposite screen directions, faces off these two Napoleons in a series of nine or ten shots that involve the physical confrontation of the statues of the two Napoleons. This is followed by a shot where two statues of gods similarly confront each other; here the two statues are identical. And they occupy the same screen space as the opposing statues of Napoleon. Two shots follow of statues of gods on horseback, gesturing in the manner of the mounted Napoleon. In each shot, the gods occupy opposite screen spaces. More shots of gods. Then a shot of Kornilov and a more or less narrative progression of the march on Petrograd begins, though, of course, this narrative is often interrupted by short metaphoric bursts of imagery.

It is the “God” unit of this sequence that is the more abstract. Of it, Eisenstein writes

Kornilov’s march on Petrograd was under the banner of ‘In the name of God and Country.’ Here we attempted to reveal the religious significance of this episode in a rationalistic way. A number of religious images, from a magnificent Baroque Christ to an Eskimo idol, were cut together. The conflict in this case was between the concept and the symbolization of God. While idea and image appear to accord completely in the first statue shown, the two elements move farther from each other with successive images. Maintaining the denotation of ‘God,’ the images increasingly disagree with our concept of God, inevitably leading to individual conclusions about the true nature of all deities. In this case, too, a chain of images attempted to achieve a purely intellectual resolution, resulting from a conflict between a preconception and a gradual discrediting of it in purposeful steps.

Step by step, by a process of comparing each new image with the common denotation, power is accumulated behind a process that can be formally identified with that of a logical deduction. The decision to release these ideas, as well as the method used, is already intellectually conceived.

The conventional descriptive form for film leads to the formal possibility of a kind of filmic reasoning. While the conventional film directs emotions, this suggests an opportunity to encourage and direct the whole thought process as well.2

Eisenstein suggests here that the “God” unit somehow recapitulates the form of a logical argument, a logical deduction. The sequence purportedly engages the audience’s cognition in a manner such that a set of shot interpolations can be read as a disproof of God’s existence. The importance of the shot chain is not only thematic (“God does not exist”), but pedagogic in that the editing structure encourages and directs the worker audience to reason through an exercise of analysis.

Though Eisenstein’s explication of the meaning and importance of the sequence is clear, it inevitably evokes questions. Immediately one asks, how are the shots in this passage anything like steps in a logical deduction? If this sequence is an atheological argument, where are the premises, where is the conclusion?

To answer this question, let us start with a hypothesis, namely, that the premises as well as the conclusion of Eisenstein’s argument are made up of a set of inferences we derive from the juxtaposition of certain shots. That is, in any film an audience must make inferences about the connection of two shots. If a shot of a man putting on a jacket is spliced with a shot of that man walking out of a building, we infer the connection between those shots. Generally, the range of connectives one infers need extend solely over temporal, spatial, causal, and psychological relations. However, we may also infer that a concept may afford a shot connection. Griffith’s Intolerance is a testament to this discovery. Griffith cuts freely between four periods of history; many of the cuts are justified by a concept, namely “man is intolerant.” We are presented with a series of scenes from different periods. We infer they are related by a concept. Here, the inference of the shot connective also represents the director’s theme. This aspect of editing particularly occupied Eisenstein’s thinking. Esthetically, Eisenstein was committed to art that demands that the spectator constantly speculate about the meaning of art objects by analyzing the organization of those objects. Of theater, he writes

. . . every spectator, in correspondence with his individuality, and his own way and out of his own experience—out of the warp and weft of his associations, all conditioned by the premises of his character, habits, and social appurtenances, creates an image (an idea) suggested by the author, leading him to understanding and experience of the author’s theme.3

One need not even turn to Eisenstein’s theoretical writings to confirm his interest in grounding thematic material on a set of inferences to be performed by the audience in order to render a chain of shots intelligible. The “Guns not Bread” sequence of October might be said to begin with a shot of a soldier crouching in a trench. He is seeking safety from an artillery barrage. He looks upward anxiously. Then there is a series of shots of a cannon being lowered by workmen in a factory. The shots of the cannon repeat the downward movement of the gun, from several angles, several times. A figurative relation between the downward movement of the cannon in the munitions works and the crouching soldier is unavoidable. The munitions industry “oppresses” the trooper. This generic reading of the cannon as a representative of the munitions industry becomes explicit as the shot chain progresses. There are cuts from the munitions factory to breadlines. Here, at the very least, one infers that the relation between these shots is a comparative relation that extends over two activities of the same government. The viewer also realizes that this comparison is a contrast between the provisional government’s investment in arms rather than relief. To understand the purpose of this contrast, the viewer must infer the moral concept that it is reprehensible to wage war needlessly while the populace is starving. The audience must make inferences to connect these shots; interestingly, at the same time it makes these inferences it rehearses an argument against the policies of the provisional government. Thus, at the same time the shot chain expresses a revolutionary idea, it also educates the audience in a method of argumentation. This process of education is maieutic. The argument is drawn from the audience by setting the task of discovering shot connections.

Likewise, an extended and intermittent set of cuts from the end of the well-known bridge sequence to the beginning of the ‘God and Country’ sequence is, in part, rendered intelligible by the inference of a moral concept. The bridge sequence ends with a series of shots of the bombed-out Bolshevik headquarters. The cut is to the headquarters of the provisional government in the Winter Palace. Kerensky “ascends” to power. There is a cut to Bolsheviks in prison. There are shots of Lenin’s hideout. Lenin’s abode, a mere hut, with a fire outside, and a lone teakettle boiling over the fire, is juxtaposed to an elaborate series of shots of the crockery and eating utensils in Kerensky’s domicile. These cuts culminate that motif of the cutting, throughout the shot chain, that compares the quarters of the provisional government with those of the prospective government, Lenin’s teakettle with an astonishing array of dishes and glasses. Too much against so little (the maldistribution of wealth and power). Again, the set of inferences that the shots evoke, mobilize and rehearse an argument.

Turning to the “God” sequence one can begin to infer a series of premises of an atheological argument. The title gives us the word “God.” Then, an image of a Christian church. Next we are given Christ. Since the titles have related God and country (Holy Mother Russia), and there is a shot of a Christian church, we understand that the God this sequence is primarily concerned with is the Christian God. From the Christian God, we move to Christ, a particular instance of the Christian God, iconographically distinct from the Holy Ghost or the Father. The image of Christ, moreover, is not the image of the suffering servant, but more of the nature of Christ the King. Thus, this shot emphasizes a particular aspect of God—his rulership. Furthermore, the idea of Christ’s rulership as opposed to the rulership of the Father, suggests the idea of all-benevolence. Shots of churches follow, evoking the idea of Christianity as a theological and social institution. This reference to a theological system, in conjunction with the reference to God, and the image of Christ (who is all-benevolent) grounds the shot interpolation in an expression of theological doctrine to the effect that the aspect of God, instanced in the persona of Christ, is an essential characteristic of God. Here, in the juxtaposition of the first ten or so shots, we can locate the first premise of Eisenstein’s argument. It is “There is a God such that God is all-benevolent” or “If there is a God, then He is all-benevolent.” The range of discourse here is thus restricted to the examination of the idea or denotation of God expressed in the exoteric doctrine of Christianity, i.e., to the God the worker audience is familiar with. This first premise evolves out of both the image of Christ (who is all-benevolent) and its conjunction with the institution of the church (which maintains all-benevolence is an essential characteristic of God).

A series of alternative concepts of God are evoked by the ensuing shot chain. These gods are also related to creeds, in fact, creeds that are incompatible with Christianity. By comparing these images of gods, by comparing shots, new premises result—“some people believe there is a god B,” “some people believe there is a god C,” “. . . D, E, F . . .,” and “these gods are different,” and “the existence of some of these gods is incompatible with the existence of others.” To account for these diverse manifestations of divinity one cannot logically argue that they are merely different representations of the same god because Eisenstein has chosen images of gods whose creeds are incompatible. To account for these different beliefs about God, one must postulate that, whichever god exists, he deceives some men about his true nature or he has made some men so that they are unable to know him. This implies the Christian God does not exist. That God deceives men implies he is not all-benevolent. And, since the Christian God is omnipotent, his endowing some men with the inability to know him implies he is not allbenevolent. A set of empirically true premises about various non-Christian faiths leads us to the implication that God is not all-benevolent. The first premise of the argument stated a standard concept of God—“There is a God such that God is all-benevolent.” But a contradiction has resulted from the addition of a set of empirically true premises to this original premise. This contradiction can only be resolved by the admission that without the addition of further premises, the argument implies that the Christian God does not exist. Moreover, if all-benevolence is regarded as a necessary characteristic of any god, no god exists. (“If there is a God, he is all-benevolent.” “God is not all-benevolent.” By modus tollens, “there is no God.”)

The argument, as stated, takes the form of a reductio ad absurdum. That is, it assumes a set of premises are true and from that set of premises derives a contradiction. This implies that some premise or premises must be false. The premises that express that there are alternative beliefs about God are all true. The premise that must be false concerns the denotation of God which states that God is all-benevolent. “God,” as commonly understood by the worker audience, cannot exist.

At this point it is profitable to recall what Eisenstein says about the sequence.

Maintaining the denotation of ‘God,’ the images increasingly disagree with our concept of God, inevitably leading to individual conclusions about the true nature of all deities. In this case, too, a chain of images attempted to achieve a purely intellectual resolution, resulting from a conflict between a preconception [Christian] and a gradual discrediting of it in purposeful steps.4

This statement seems to suggest the idea of a reductio ad absurdum, for though not stated in terms of logic, Eisenstein has in mind the derivation of a contradiction from the assumption of a standard concept of God, and a set of images of gods of faiths incompatible with Christianity.

The “Country” unit of this sequence further contradicts the idea that God is all-benevolent. Kerensky and Kornilov both oppose one another in the name of God. Both the provisional government and Kornilov have been intercut with the same images of churches and church ceremony. The two personalities, represented by opposing figures of Napoleon, are intercut with an image of two statues of the same god opposing each other in a screen space isomorphic to the screen space of the two Napoleons. Other cuts of gods are also added to the sequence. In the “Country” sequence, then, the topic of revelation is again broached. Both men act according to the will of the same deity. One of them or both of them must be deceived. The opposition of these two crusaders implies the shot of a god in opposition with himself. Either the will of God has been inaccurately understood by someone or someone is deceived. Again, both cases imply that God is not all-benevolent, thus offering a corollary to the previous reductio ad absurdum. The “God” unit of the sequence purports to refute the existence of God on the basis of the incompatibility of the revelations of God across various faiths whereas the “Country” sequence suggests that contradictory revelations of God’s will within one faith is further evidence. that an all-benevolent God is nonexistent.

One objection that this description of the sequence has encountered is that the sequence does not work because the inference that the Christian worker derives from the shots of pagan idols is that these idols are the work of the devil. God is all-benevolent, but the devil deceives men. This interpretation is supported by the fact that a number of the god images in the sequence resemble demons. Nevertheless, this interpretation in no way avoids the general thrust of the argument insofar as the existence of evil is, as well, a putative contradiction to the concept of an all-benevolent God. Thus, the addition of demonic imagery of God by Eisenstein to the shot chain seems to function to introduce yet another argument against God’s existence.

Another different though not incompatible reading of the sequence might begin by pointing out that the deities here are all represented by statues. An alternative might have been to represent the various theologies by means of an inventory of culturally divergent ceremonies. Instead, Eisenstein uses statues. The gods, even the Christian God, are man-made objects. This iconography parallels the “Country” sequence, where the state is represented by man-made-objects like medals, or braids, or the statue of a czar. (Indeed, throughout the film, there is a tendency to represent the state through objects.) Through this imagery, one may see in Eisenstein a propensity for making literal Marx’s notion that religion and the state are man-made things that, through a dialectical, historical process, come to assume mastery over man. Perhaps Eisenstein himself suggests this kind of symbolic reading of the shots when he writes "these pieces were assembled in accordance with a descending intellectual scale—pulling back the concept of God to its origins, forcing the spectator to perceive this ‘progress’ intellectually.”5 That is, by emphasizing the origin of religion Eisenstein makes reference to the fact that religion, which originated out of man’s fears and needs, has come to dominate its maker. If such a reading is plausible, one may argue that the sequence not only initiates a critique of religion, but also situates religion as a form of alienation.

At this point, some disclaimers are in order. It is not our claim that Eisenstein has incontrovertibly disproved God’s existence or even that Eisenstein invented a new and interesting atheological argument. Whether or not the deduction described is true is irrelevant. What is important is that it is a logically valid argument form. That is, it seems that there is a set of inferences that we may propose in order to explain the juxtaposition or relation of shots in the “God and Country” sequence that suggest a logically valid (though possibly false) atheological argument. These inferences, moreover, can be performed without esoteric knowledge of religions. This evidence, combined with Eisenstein’s description of the scene, enables us to characterize the aspiration of the sequence in terms of an effort by Eisenstein to engage and direct the cognitive processes of the audience in such a way that the audience will perform a logical analysis of the concept of God. Eisenstein takes as the model, for the making of the sequence, a valid argument form, the reductio ad absurdum. He supplies a range of shots that will suggest the premises of the argument. The audience in inferring the relations of these shots to one another will evolve a set of concepts that lead to a contradiction. Thus, thematically Eisenstein is engaged in a critique of religion while stylistically he is engaged in a form of pedagogy. The method of making the scene engenders an analytic attitude in the audience viewing it. The method of making the sequence is thus ideologically influenced as is the theme, for the aspiration of technique here is to reshape the consciousness of the audience by exercising the analytic faculty of the mind.

Marx writes “Not only the result, but the road to it is also part of the truth. The investigation of truth must itself be true, true investigation is unfolded truth, the disjuncted members of which unite in the result.”6 This statement, despite its density, makes clear the importance Marx attached to the process of correct analysis. In the “God and Country” sequence, Eisenstein attempts to fully realize Marx’s strictures by using a logically valid argument form, a reasoning pattern that preserves truth, as a principle for the organization of shots. The effort is ideological as well in that it attempts to evoke in the audience a rehearsal of the analytic process.

One cannot predict what Eisenstein’s film of Capital would have looked like. But the “God and Country” sequence does suggest at least one tool that might have facilitated the analysis of abstract concepts, namely, the use of standard argument patterns as models for editing structures.

The sequence is also on a continuum with previous work by Eisenstein. As Eisenstein writes in his description of the sequence, his method grows out of a recognition about conventional narrative films. Cutting demands that audiences make inferences about the relation between shots. To a certain degree, a wide range of shot connections become conventionalized. Nevertheless, it is possible to thrust viewers back into a condition of constant inference by an avoidance of conventional cutting patterns, by the use of more complex relations, such as logical or metaphoric relations, as models for editing structures. Cutting the suppression of the workers against an abattoir in Strike is a salient example. Eisenstein’s wide use of synecdoche is also a measure of his abiding commitment to a cinema of in tense intellectual excitement. He writes

The strength of montage resides in this, that it involves the creative process, the emotions and mind of the spectator. The spectator is compelled to proceed along that selfsame creative path that the author traveled in creating the image (idea). The spectator not only sees the represented elements of the finished work, but also experiences the dynamic process of the emergence and assembly of the image (idea) just as it was experienced by the author.7

The “God and Country” sequence is perhaps Eisenstein’s most daring experiment along these lines. The juxtaposition of shots evokes a series of inferences which because they are logically incompatible require yet another inference. Here, we see a concrete example of an attempt to direct and to exercise the mind of the viewer. For Eisenstein, cinema presupposes inference, which, within a Marxist framework, makes it an eminent pedagogic tool for the reshaping of consciousness.

I have stressed the intent and structure of “For God and Country,” leaving open the question of how successful the sequence is in structuring the consciousness of the mass audience. To speculate on how the Soviet audience viewing the sequence in 1929 responded is a question for a master historian-psychologist-statistician unlikely to appear. All that can be said is that there is a way in which the structure of the sequence seems firmly situated in an attempt to evolve not only a theme but a style that is coordinated with the aspirations of Marxism. Nevertheless, one does feel compelled to make some comment on audience response to the sequence. If we can talk about a theoretical (and perhaps dubious) invention called “the sympathetic viewer,” it seems fair to claim that, at the very least, that viewer, on first viewing, has the sense that the sequence involves comparison of the attributes of alternate deities and theological systems, and that these alternate deities are somehow incompatible. The speed of projection might not allow all sympathetic viewers enough time to reconstruct the argument during the first viewing. However, this sympathetic viewer does have a sense of the basic argument pattern and thus should be able to complete the argument either after the first viewing or after subsequent viewings. The fact, moreover, that viewers may have to consider the shot chain for some period of time before they have command of it seems to impute a genuine pedagogic value to the sequence.

The montage style is predicated on the excitation of the inference-making faculties of the audience. To render cuts intelligible the audience must make inferences. Such inferences can be of a highly thematic and conceptual nature. Montage, then, is a way to direct and to engender thought along new lines. The “God and Country” sequence is a concrete example of the restructuring and exercise of the spectator’s thought processes. It not only attempts to direct the audience to the recognition that God does not exist; it also, in the maieutic tradition, attempts to draw from and educate the audience in an analytic form of reasoning.



1. Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda, New York, 1949, p. 63.

2. Ibid., pp. 62–63.

3. Eisenstein, Film Sense, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda, New York, 1942, p. 33.

4. Eisenstein, Film Form, p. 63.

5. Ibid., p. 82.

6. Quoted by Eisenstein, Film Sense, p. 32.

7. Ibid., p. 32.