It is not uncommon to hear that communism was “a good idea poorly implemented.” In spite of its actual experiences – all ending with catastrophic results – the idea that communism contains a “positive core” and is “friendly to the poor” reemerged at the World Meeting of Popular Movements organized at the Vatican from October 28 to 30 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. It was held in the presence of Pope Francis and over one hundred representatives from movements often linked to the extreme left.
Besides being doctrinally questionable, this thesis is historically false. On the Catholic side, it was enunciated by Jacques Maritain, the ideologue of Catholic Action’s turn to the left. He applied it indiscriminately to both socialism and communism: “In the nineteenth century, socialism has been a protest of human consciousness and its more generous instincts against evils that cried out to heaven…. Socialism has loved the poor.”1 In this lyrical vision, Maritain included Soviet Communism: “For the first time in history, Maxim Gorky recently wrote about Soviet communism, the true love of man is organized as a creative force and sets as a goal the emancipation of thousands of workers. We believe in the profound sincerity of Gorky’s words.”2
This was also the thesis of Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferré, philosophical mentor to an entire generation of Latin American churchmen of the “populist” line. According to Methol, the evil of Marxism lies only in his atheism: “The Church essentially rejected Marxism on account of the atheism it contained.” However, the system of Karl Marx had a valid element: “Marxism’s more valid [aspect] was its critique of capitalism.”3
This “valid” element leads the Uruguayan philosopher to defend aspects of the so-called liberation theology, of Marxist origin: “The theology of liberation can also be viewed as an attempt to assume the best of Marxism…. This theology has rendered an invaluable service by rethinking policy in light of the common good and therefore in close relationship with the preferential option for the poor and [for] justice.”4
It is amazing to see personages from the Catholic world exalting a system which the Magisterium of the Church defined as “detestable sect,”5 “abominable sect,”6 “intrinsically evil” system,7 “shame of our time,”8 the result of a “fundamental error;”9 a system with which, in the words of Pius XI, “no collaboration can be admitted in any field.” Indeed, by a decree of the Holy Office of 1949, any collaboration with communism would lead to excommunication latae sententiae.
As stated above, the thesis of a communism “friendly to the poor” is a mistake as posited and a fallacy in the real world. Far from being a friend, communism is the worst enemy of the poor. Wherever it has been applied, in all its combinations, variations and declensions, the result has always been a sharp increase in poverty and social ills. In fact, the left makes not so much a preferential option for the poor but for poverty as such. Journalist Indro Montanelli was right when he wrote, “The left loves the poor so much that their numbers increase whenever it rises to power.”
From Old Communism to New Populism, the Same Revolutionary Core
Today, gruesome and cutthroat communism remains only in a few scattered spots like North Korea and Cuba, while the left, especially in Latin America, proclaims itself “populist.” This populism, however, retains the core of old revolutionary communism: an egalitarian and socialist vision hostile to private property and free enterprise.
Contrary to its name, populism never comes from the people but from revolutionary elites and is always imposed by force, belying its supposedly democratic character. And once implemented, it has proven to be the worst enemy of the people.
The failure of socialism in Castro’s Cuba (to stay on Pope Francis’ continent) is such that the average monthly wage is still only US $ 21.00, by far the lowest in Latin America and “insufficient to meet the most basic needs of the population,” as President Raul Castro himself had to admit. Recently published data by economist Raul Sandoval of the University of Havana show that 70% of homes in Cuba are in disrepair.10
Another example is Venezuela. An oil-rich country with a flourishing economy to the point of being compared in the seventies to a “South American Florida,” it has been reduced by Chavez’s socialism to the “economic situation of a country at war”11 where tragedy borders on the ridiculous. Recently, due to the chronic lack of shampoo in stores, the “Minister for Eco-socialism” (sic), Ricardo Molina suggested that his countrymen refrain from washing their hair as a form of “revolutionary sacrifice.”12
Another example is Ecuador. Though rich in oil resources, in 2008 it was forced to default on its external debt and is no longer able to obtain additional lines of credit on the international market. In 2013, China had to come to its aid by acquiring all its oil production.13
There is also the example of Argentina, where Peronist Cristina Kirchner was forced to default on the country’s debt for a second time in a few years. According to independent studies, poverty has now reached 36.5% of Argentina’s population, forcing the INDEC (National Institute of Statistics and Census) to distort figures which would otherwise place the country below “third world’ levels.14
But, oh mystery! These failed systems were precise the ones defended in late October by militants of “popular movements” gathered at the Vatican under the aegis of Pope Francis. From Bolivian coca leader Evo Morales to anarchist activists of the “Leoncavallo Social Center,” famous for their physical aggressions of conservative political figures, the far left has gathered at Saint Peter’s. Latin American movements predominated. The works, including the Pontiff’s talks and the final statement, were published in Spanish. A Cuban Communist blog referred to the event as the “World Assembly of the Fighting Poor.”
An Option for the Poor, or for Poverty?
A protagonist in the conference was João Pedro Stédile, leader of the Marxist-oriented and subversive Landless Workers Movement (MST) from Brazil. The MST slogan, “No peasant without land,” was transcribed in the conclusion of the final declaration. Through often violent actions, MST advocates a socialist and confiscatory “land reform,” i.e. the expropriation of farms to distribute the land to peasants grouped in “settlements” inspired by Soviet kolkhozes.
But none other than the very president of Brazil’s INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform), Francisco Graziano Neto, has admitted: “Land reform turns out to be the worst public policy failure in our country” 15 Most of the “settlements” have become unproductive “rural slums,” as Minister Gilberto Carvalho has recently admitted.16 However—and the mystery lingers on—these slums are precisely what MST proposes as a “populist” solution to the land question.
For those who closely monitor Latin American reality, the results of the World Meeting of “popular movements” hosted by the Vatican arouse perplexity and apprehension. Many of the movements that participated in it belong to the extreme left. An ecclesiastical endorsement would run a serious risk of being interpreted as a political prop to the said left, with catastrophic results for the very people they claim to defend. Is that the intention?
There are also rumors that in the context of the severe economic crisis we have been living after years of “neo-liberalism,” renewed populism would be able to inspire a new social consciousness that places the poor at the center of attention. Such awareness would be legitimate and even worthy of support. The problem is whether populism would be capable of providing it. In this case, a careful analysis shows how the left is not so much in favor of the poor as it is of poverty as such, since it obstinately keeps proposing socioeconomic systems that have proven to be unsuccessful and severely damaging to the lower classes – precisely those it claims to help.
So, borrowing the ironic expression of Jesuit theologian Horace Bojorge we can say that this populism is for the poor nothing more than a ‘lead-filled life jacket.” It is one more fraud in the long series of frauds dotting the ominous journey of the world Left.
- Jacques Maritain, Umanesimo integrale, Borla, Roma 2009, p. 132.
- Ibid., pp. 132-133.
- Alberto Methol Ferré, Alver Metalli, Il Papa e il Filosofo, Cantagalli, Siena, 2014, pp. 49-50.
- Ibid., pp. 112, 114.
- Leo XIII, Encyclical Quod apostolici muneris, 28 December 1878.
- Pius XI, Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, 19 March 1937.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect), Instruction Libertatis Nuntius, 6 August 1984.
- John Paul II, Encyclical Centesimus annus, 1 May 1991.
- Cf. Raúl A. Sandoval Gonzalez, La pobreza en Cuba, www.progreso-semanal.com, 28 March 2012.
- Infobae América, 2 March 2013.
- “Un ministro venezolano recomienda no lavarse el pelo si escasea el champú,” ABC, 31 October 2014.
- “La bandiera cinese piantata sull’Ecuador. Il gigante asiatico compra tutto il greggio,” Corriere della Sera, 30 September 2013.
- Francisco Jueguen, “Segun ex-técnicos del INDEC, la pobreza es del 36,5%,” La Nacion, 12 April 2014.
- Francisco Graziano Neto, “Reforma Agraria de qualidade,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 17 April 2012.
- Fernando Odila, “Política agrária federal criou ‘favelas rurais’, diz ministro,” Folha de S. Paulo, 9 February 2013.