The Jesuit magazine America has published an article entitled The Catholic Case for Communism. Its author, Toronto correspondent Dean Dettloff argues that while the Communist Party has indeed taught atheism and persecuted Christians, these are not necessary facets of Communism. He excoriates Capitalism for its rapacious, selfish, oppressive ways and says that Communism, with its goal of a classless society, is a movement that Catholics and other Christians should join.
Dettloff is not just advocating liberation theology, with its Marxist assumptions in a Christian garb. He is advocating out-and-out Communism.
He draws on Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement and the soon-to-be patron saint (since she is on track to be canonized) of the Catholic left. But she drew the line at actual Communism, lauding the good motives of many Communists while attacking the party’s persecution of the Church. For this Dettloff criticizes her.
Now what defines Communism, as opposed to other anti-Capitalist ideologies, is its advocacy of violent revolution. This is not merely a change in government, but a revolution throughout society in which the working class (the proletariat) overthrows the middle class (the bourgeoisie), seizing their property and turning it over to collective ownership. Then follows a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” in which the Communist party will rule until the revolution has overturned every dimension of society, at which time one can expect the withering away of the state. There is no question of democracy, human rights, or liberty in a Communist society. These are all “bourgeois” notions predicated on the individualism that characterize the middle class. Such counter-revolutionary thinking must be eliminated in favor of a new collectivist mindset.
This is simply what Communism is. This is not a criticism, just a description that all Communists will agree with.
We might add that Communist ideology as developed by Karl Marx is also grounded in “dialectical materialism.” All issues of culture, morality, the arts, and other aspects of society are thought to have “material” explanations. That is, they are “masks” for economics and the class struggle, and are means by which the ruling economic class makes itself appear legitimate to the class that it is exploiting. One of the most important of such masks is religion. The opposition to religion really does lie at the essence of Communism.
Dettlaff is coy about the revolution that Communism seeks to foment, but he alludes to it, softening the point by wrapping it in the alleged evils of Capitalism:
So Dorothy Day was right when she said it is when the communists are good that they are dangerous. Communists are pursuing the good when they are dangerous; they are opposing an economic system based on avarice, exploitation and human suffering, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. And in a world beholden to an economy of death, one that is crippling our “common home,” as Pope Francis tells us, and asserting itself as the end of history, we must also add: It is when the communists are dangerous that they are good.
To blame Capitalism for the suffering in the world is a vast overstatement. Free market economics are largely responsible for the dramatic decline in world poverty and global hunger in the last few decades. The newfound prosperity in many developing nations is eluding only those that have embraced Communism: North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela. India, which has 18% of the world’s population, was mired in poverty while it was under a socialist regime, but has experienced rapid economic growth and improvements in its standard of living once it embraced free market economics (though, yes, it has a ways to go). Its one economic success story, China, proves the point, since it never became an economic powerhouse until it adopted free market reforms. The Chinese Communist party let Marxist economic principles fall by the wayside, but retained Communist authoritarianism, which is the one consistent feature of Communism.
But set that aside. If you do not approve of Capitalism, there are lots of other economic systems that you could advocate without accepting Communism. The anti-Capitalist Communist could be, like many others of their faith, a distributist or a Christian democrat or a social democrat. You could embrace one of the many varieties of socialism. If you are still sold on Marxism, you could be a Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, and Rashida Tlaib. This ideology is committed to the goals that Dettlaff finds so attractive but believes they should be implemented by political means–voting, running for political office, passing laws–rather than violent revolution.
Why wouldn’t a left-leaning Catholic or other Christian embrace one of those other anti-Capitalist ideologies, rather than Communism? What about the Catholic opposition to war and the death penalty, both of which are part of the Communist tool-box in liquidating the Middle Class in order to build the Workers’ Paradise?
The fact is, Communism has never achieved its goals, lauded by Dettlaff, of improving the lot of the poor or of creating a classless society.
Catholics and other Christians know why: Good intentions and idealistic goals are always thwarted by human sin. In fact, good intentions and idealistic goals can themselves inspire murderous behavior. The noble ends are made to justify the evil means.
As a result, Communism has been blamed for some 100 million deaths.
Here is my question: What if a Nazi wrote an article expressing regret for the Holocaust and World War II but made the argument that hating Jews is not a necessary feature of Nazism, which, in fact, has much to commend it for Christians. Would a Jesuit magazine publish that?
Nazism is rightly considered beyond the pale, but why is Communism–after all we know now, after so many manifest failures and atrocities–still acceptable in so many circles?
Illustration: Christian Communist logo Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=483642 via Wikimedia Commons