Archbishop Oscar Romero on Marxism

Archbishop Oscar Romero on Marxism June 4, 2008

Archbishop Romero’s pastoral letters have much to say on Marxism, why the Church rejects Marxism, why the Church’s social doctrine must not be confused as being Marxist, and yet also why elements of Marxist thought can be cautiously used to help inform Christians who, following their duty to the world, are trying to make it a better place to live.

First, Romero is very clear – the Church must reject Marxism, but he also makes it clear people need to understand what Marxism is and what it is not. “Marxism is a complex phenomenon. It has to be studied from various points of view: economic, scientific, political, philosophical and religious. One has, moreover, to study Marxism in terms of its own history. What the church asserts, and what, in its joint message of May 1, the episcopal conference has recalled, is that insofar as Marxism is an atheistic ideology it is incompatible with the Christian faith. That conviction has never changed in the church’s history. In that sense, the church cannot be Marxist,” Second Pastoral Letter, in Archbishop Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements. Trans. Michael J. Walsh (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000),77. Looking at Marxism in this fashion, Romero reiterated this message in his Fourth Pastoral Letter: “Naturally if one understands by Marxism a materialistic, atheistic ideology that is taken to explain the whole human existence and gives a false interpretation of religion, then it is completely untenable by a Christian.” (145-6).

So why has the Church’s social doctrine often been confused as Marxist by its critics? There are two reasons. One, because the Church rejects all forms of economic materialism, including capitalism, as being too reductionistic. “The real problem, however, arises from the fact that alongside the traditional condemnation of Marxism the church now lays down a condemnation of the capitalist system as well. It is denounced as one version of practical materialism” (77). Thus, for those who think there are only two possible positions to follow, capitalism or Marxism, when they see the Church condemning capitalism, they assume that means it must be Marxist. Secondly, much of the Church’s social doctrine often echoes the concerns of Marxists, and so there is a false equation of the Church’s teaching with Marxism; indeed, many who do this seem to be the ones wanting to find a reason to reject the Church’s social teaching. “As several Latin American hierarchies have said time and again in recent years, worldly interests try to make the church’s position seem Marxist when it is in fact insisting on fundamental human rights and when it is placing the whole weight of its institutional and prophetic authority at the service of the dispossessed and weak” (78). 

Nonetheless, with such condemnations, Romero believes that people can learn and employ either Marxist or capitalist thought for their technical, scientific means. If they do so, they must understand the limitations of such an endeavor. It is to be done for concrete, real-world situations, looking at the positive aspects of such teachings, without confusing the practical use of such research as proving the ideology.  “When listening to, and rendering its judgments upon the various ideologies it [the church] is influenced in the first place by the moral concerns proper to the faith. It is not so much moved to give technical judgments about the concrete proposals that spring from different ideologies” (77). Thus, what he makes clear about Marxism can also be said with other ideologies: “It can be understood as a scientific analysis of the economic and social order” (146). And with all sciences, it must not be seen as a complete presentation of the situation (something politicians often forget). 

This realization can explain why one can have a practical engagement with ideologies like Marxism or capitalism. Romero points out, however, that one should not ignore the inherent dangers of doing so. “Such political praxis can lead to the absolutization of popular political organizations. It can dry up from the Christian inspiration of their members, and even cut them off from the church, as if the church had no right to exercise, from the perspective of its own transcendent ideology, a critical function in relation to political activities” (146). Thus the problem is turning any ideology into an absolute, which is what most often happens in the modern political situation and its desire to engage in political reductionism. “The church is not dedicated to any particular ideology as such. It must be prepared to speak out against turning any ideology into an absolute” (78). 

Romero believed, as with the Church, that Marxism was a great threat for South America. He wanted people to understand it in all of its senses. This will help one understand why the Church’s teaching is not Marxist, even if, at times, there might seem to be some similarity between what a Marxist would want and what the Church’s prophetic teaching requires (the same, of course, is true with capitalism: the church affirms private property in a very limited sense, but many use the limited support and absolutize it in a way the Church does not). But, Romero points out, the only way the Church can defeat Marxism is to fully follow its social doctrine: “The best way to defeat Marxism is to take seriously the preferential option for the poor” (146). That, he believes, is the only way the temptation of the poor to become Marxist can be overcome.

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  • Mark DeFrancisis

    All too often Marxism is lazily only dismissed in American Catholic circles because of its “reductionistic understanding of man”, or its “false historical teleology.” This is to the detriment of all involved, and a transgression of the directive,”Test everything and hold fast to what is good”.

  • Mark

    Right, which is why I thought Romero’s discussion of Marxism (and capitalism) was important: Marxism is many things, and just because Marxists are wrong about X does not mean Y is in error (in other words, the criticism of Marxism tends to be reductionist as well).

  • Mr. Smith

    Thanks for this post, I thought it was very interesting. I teach economics to high schoolers (public), and I can admit I express little support for Marxism to the students. We cover the economic goals of course, and I do explain which ones communism is better at (at least in intent). 10th grade economics is meant to be both “capitalistic” and “practical” so there is little room for much else other than Keynesian-ism.

    I do wonder at times what the best economic option is. The Church has her correct criticisms of both Capitalism and Marxism, but that leaves things rather murky.

  • Henry,

    Who is it that thinks Catholic Social Doctrine is Marxist? Can you point to a paper, book, or speaker where such a thing is said? Anywhere?

    It’s all fine and good to point out the Church has been critical of all economic systems, pointing out the dangers inherent in any political/economic order. But you equivocate – you write as if the Church’s criticism of capitalism is just as severe as Her criticism of Marxism. Even a cursory reading of the appropriate sources reveals this is not the case.

    I’d like to see you be as charitable to Adam Smith as you are to Karl Marx. I would probably learn a lot from you.

  • Mr. Smith

    Yes, it is quite difficult, because, I think, any economic system will be an imperfect and incomplete system. The idea of positivistic systematic representations of all aspects of human life (let alone theology) is more or less rejected in current theological teaching. This is not to deny their value and use, but it is important to understand the incomplete aspect of all systematic approaches, and how easy it is for a “system” to become “ideology.”

    In this way I think Catholic Social Doctrine looks to what is positive and negative from all ideologies and all economic systems. It warns us not to absolutize. It must always be general, and allow people from within the secular realm to try to create concrete solutions following its dictates instead of trying to find one absolute system which can define all life.

    On the other hand, I sympathize. Things are murky, and I think in part, because situations and needs change.

  • Zach,

    There are many aspects to your question. A part of what I would say is that this post reflects years of experience and dialogue with people, and I’ve not written down their statements. Some of it is from readings I’ve done, but again, I’ve not written down references. However, it is quite common for people to say CST is “communistic.” Even Belloc and Chesterton had critics claiming they were socialists (funny enough, Shaw and Chesterton had a debate, “Do We Agree” which dealt with that accusation– see: http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/debate.txt ). As I said in the post, a big part of it is people think either/or with communism/capitalism as the options, and so if you say “capitalism is wrong” you are automatically communist. CST has always transcended those options, in part, because of what I said here (and will point out a bit more), CST distances itself from economic materialism in all its forms (and capitalism in a secular world can only be a form of economic materialism, even if it is a Calvinistic version of it which sees some people as elected for wealth, and others for being poor, vs communist economic materialism which tries to remove all sense of differentiation between persons).

    Now, we must keep clear that this was a post on Oscar Romero. As you can tell, it is also trying to learn from him and encourage people to continue with his thought. So, on one level, we must look at the critics of Romero from the government: they did claim his thought to be communistic. This kind of response to Romero was not found only in his lifetime, but continues afterwards, and not only by his critics, but by some, who sympathized with communism, who wanted to use him as well (see: http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/globalpers/gp040505.htm or http://www.thewitness.org/article.php?id=895 ). So, Romero himself had to deal with that charge and did so, and that’s what is being quoted on here.

    However, it is quite common when one aspect of CST is brought up on VN that someone will say VN or a poster on VN is “communist” either on the blog itself ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/02/24/equality-of-opportunity-no-more-desirable-than-equality-of-outcome/#comment-13540 where TeutonicTim says MM thinks the Church wants us to be communists, when he doesn’t) or off the blog ( http://lewiscrusade.blogspot.com/2008/05/banned-fromvox-nova.html ).

    Of course there can be disagreements on CST, but to call people who discuss the preferential option for the poor communists, as some do, then you can see the kind of discussion and rhetoric going on ( see http://www.the-tidings.com/2007/020907/benson.htm; it shows a famous quote which often points to the problem I am bringing up here:”When I feed the poor they call me a saint, but when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist.”)

    To your point about capitalism and Smith. If you read what I write on VN, you will see that I think we should look for what is positive in all traditions while being critical of that tradition as well (my works in dialogue have focused on that notion, and my work as a comparative theologian embraces this methodology as can be found in St Thomas Aquinas). Capitalism does have some things to commend for it, but often, I think people already know that so I don’t discuss them here (if I were talking with communists, I would discuss Catholic understanding of private property, which isn’t capitalistic but nonetheless counters the pure communist ideology). So I would indeed say capitalistic thought has helped provide a counter-point to Marxist errors, but the problem is that it is really comes form the same coin (economic materialism) as Marxism, and so it will have its own errors, often the same ones as the Marxist. And if you note, in this post, I did point out that Marxism and capitalism both have elements worthy of our notice and to be used in particular situations.

  • Henry,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. These responses are some of the most balanced things you have written for Vox Nova, IMHO.There’s a lot to comment on, but I think I’ll restrict myself to a general remark: You certainly do a lot of work combating some of the theoretical errors that can be made by Catholics who want to think about politics.

    It is possible that a lot of the disagreements between you and some of the other contributors to this blog (I know it’s true for me) occur because you are dealing with treating theoretical ideas, and many come wanting to deal with practical ones. Politics tends to attract a practically-minded group of thinkers – people want to know what works; they know that politics is the ‘art of the possible’ etc. . So people are quick to judge certain types of policy preferences as Marxist, which is to say they are influenced by Marxist ideas. They are hostile to Marx because of some of the other consequences of his thought, namely, the indescribable horrors of the 20th century – Stalin, Mao, etc. I think this is a perfectly natural reaction and not necessarily wrong, either.

    But anyways, I think if you were more clear about what your preferred policy positions are, rather than trying to maintain a tenuous academic neutrality, people would take less issue with what you write. An interesting post would be you advocating for a particular policy, a particular way to organize our lives together.

    Thanks again and I hope the preceding at least makes a little bit of sense.

  • …you write as if the Church’s criticism of capitalism is just as severe as Her criticism of Marxism. Even a cursory reading of the appropriate sources reveals this is not the case.

    Current Church teaching does criticize capitalism just as much as Marxism or socialism. It puts more energy into criticizing Marxism, but if you look at the criticisms themselves, they are equally strong.

    We also should remember that Ratzinger personally feels drawn to democratic socialism.

  • Michael,

    I’ve looked at the criticisms the Church has offered and respectfully I must disagree. To continue the oversimplification, the criticisms are not equally as strong.

    I’m aware that Ratzinger has expressed his approval of certain forms of democratic socialism. So what does this mean?

    If it means I should take democratic socialism as a serious alternative, OK, I do. If you mean to say that I should accept his opinion on authority, as if is somehow divinely revealed that the Church favors democratic socialism, I can’t do that because I don’t think that’s the case.

    It’s true: I think democratic capitalism better serves the common good. I also think this is an empirical fact. I’m still waiting for a socialist country to prove otherwise, but I’m hesitant to argue in socialism’s favor because of the unbelievable number of people socialist countries have killed.

  • Actually, to anyone who may be interested, I recommend this lecture on the history of socialism by a Prof. Alan Kors of University of Pennsylvania:

    http://www.mmisi.org/mp3/lectures/kors030603.mp3

    Also Michael,

    In the above comment, I should have said “more or less a fact.”

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Zach

    Zach,

    “It is possible that a lot of the disagreements between you and some of the other contributors to this blog (I know it’s true for me) occur because you are dealing with treating theoretical ideas, and many come wanting to deal with practical ones.”

    If he does not mind me saying this, Henry is a great resident of the house of the intellect, an exemplar of what the teaching profession should be.

    Our impatience to “apply” ideas, or, our unwillingness to explore prolongedly whole bodies of thought in their internal intricacies and in their cross-currents with each other and with their surrounding cutural-political milieus, is precisely what must be RESISTED if our world stands a chance of survivial in any humane and lasting manner.

    We would all do well, myself included, to follow his lead.

  • Mark,

    I don’t agree. Politics is where the theoretical and practical meet. To ignore the practical dimension of politics is to fail in the study of politics.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    The inability to understand the relation between thought and practice is a greater danger in the study of politics than the emphasis on practice.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    sorry…”than an underemphasis of practice…”

  • One of these days I need to read Marx.

  • If it means I should take democratic socialism as a serious alternative, OK, I do. If you mean to say that I should accept his opinion on authority, as if is somehow divinely revealed that the Church favors democratic socialism, I can’t do that because I don’t think that’s the case.

    If I explicitly said that he “personally” is drawn to democratic socialism, then which of the two options do you think I meant?

    I’m still waiting for a socialist country to prove otherwise, but I’m hesitant to argue in socialism’s favor because of the unbelievable number of people socialist countries have killed.

    You’re equating “socialism” with totalitarian communism, of course, which is not a good equation to make. Check out Sweden.

  • Zach, you should also consider the massive numbers of people that capitalist countries have killed. Like the United States of the Right to Choose.

  • jonathanjones02

    The numbers of people killed under the socialist banner (both in its international and national forms – remember the Nazis/Fascists and the Communists fought for and appealed to very similiar constituencies) is HUGELY greater than the numbers of people killed by countries following the Anglo-American tradition.

    By a margin of many tens of millions.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    I think the Marxist analyses of reification, as elaborated in the 20th century especially by G. Lukacs, and of commodity fetishism, as done similarly by the Frankfurt School (T. Adorno & M. Horkheimer), are indispensable for an understanding of the pernicious spiritual dynamics of our late capitalist times.

  • Michael,

    Sorry I missed that adjective! Thanks for clarifying.

    But I don’t think my equation is bad.

    I’m aware of Sweden – it’s an entirely different time and a much smaller place. Also, they don’t really have a socialist economy. I think it’s better understood as a heavily taxed free market economy, and it’s been very unstable. They have high taxes, unemployment (many people work abroad), and a whole host of other cultural problems. I am also to understand they have poor people in Sweden. Oh, and they abort their children too.

    Unrelated, but I wanted to tell you, I picked up William Cavanaugh’s book “Being Consumed” and have started working my way through his argument. I have to say, so far, I think it’s great. I intend to record some of my thoughts on his arguments and your criticism would be appreciated, if you have the time. Either way, thank you for introducing me to him.

    Mark,

    I don’t think what we’re dealing with in posts like these is “an under-emphasis” on political practice. A more accurate description might recognize practice is totally ignored.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Zach,

    We repectfully disagree.

    Maybe it is because you are a student of politics and I am a student of philosophy. 🙂

  • Zach – Glad you have picked up on Cavanaugh.

    So there are poor people in Sweeden. Are there not poor people in your united states of america? Do they not abort humans in your united states of america? What does abortion have to do with socialism? Abortion is more of a capitalist phenomenon than a “socialist” one.

    The numbers of people killed under the socialist banner (both in its international and national forms – remember the Nazis/Fascists and the Communists fought for and appealed to very similiar constituencies) is HUGELY greater than the numbers of people killed by countries following the Anglo-American tradition.

    jonathan – I’m not sure how you could possibly know that considering the government that you voted for refuses to count the human beings it has killed. And the Bush administration’s supporters (such as yourself) refuse to take seriously the studies that attempt to count the numbers of victims of the United States, such as the one I reported on just the other day.

  • Mr. Smith

    Michael,

    I have to ask, is there a reason why the United States of America is spelled twice with lower case as opposed to Sweden’s upper case? I’m not sure if that was a grammatical “whoops”, or if it was a political statement.

  • Zach

    A couple things. Do you make such criticism of Papal Encyclicals when they discuss theory alone? Do you understand why they discuss theory alone?

    Second, I don’t think all I write is “theory alone.” I think I’ve written on various kinds of practice, such as inter-religious dialogue, human-to-human encounters, etc. I do wonder how much of my writings you have actually read, especially since what I’ve written in the comments here is normative of my writing.

  • Mark,

    I am only really concerned with what is true, as I’m sure you are. Truth fortunately is not bounded by discipline.

    Michael,

    I’m not sure how you could substantiate the claim that “Abortion is more of a capitalist phenomenon than a “socialist” one.” Especially in light of places like China or North Korea.

    The point of all that talk about Sweden was to point out that it is no better off than the United States, and is in many respects worse.

    Henry,

    I am not critical of Papal Encyclicals in the same way because they are not primarily treatises on politics. Catholic Social Teaching, it has been said by many a reputable scholar and Pope, exists to teach the truths about the human person, to protect the human being from poisonous ideologies.

    Also, by saying I would like to see you write something practical, I meant something practical about politics, such as an article that argues for a particular policy position to be legislated by the Congress or advocated by the President or something. If you have done this, I have missed it. I try to read what I can, but I’m not a perfect student.

  • jonathanjones02

    There is no moral equalivance whatsoever between the more than 100 million slaughtered by collectivist countries since 1918 and those following the Anglo-American liberal tradition, even as there is plenty to criticize in both.

    To fail to recognize this is to be blinded by ideology and self-loathing.

  • Zach — the Papal Encyclicals contain quite a bit about politics, but they put the politics within the greater spectrum of the Christian faith and remind Christians the implications of the Christian faith on one’s political action. Much of what I write is in that tradition. Why? I am trained as a theologian, and look for what the Christian faith says and how it informs my thoughts and actions. Likewise, for all Christians, I think the important thing to do is to look to Christ, the concrete universal, before all political debates; and then to engage the meaning of Christ in relation to the modern situation before engaging in haphazard, random action. My contribution on Vox Nova comes from this — it is a commentary on culture, society and politics — and that is what I provide from the foundations I have. Other people have other abilities, and contribute in their own expertise. The way forward is to engage all levels, and to recognize which area one’s strength lies in, and working with others whose strengths are in other areas.

    And as for practical concerns, I will list a few posts at the end of my comment which do just that. No, they don’t always address “congress” or “the President.” Some of them deal with the election. But, I need to ask, why is it that American politics is all that there is when we discuss what it means to be practical? I often feel engagement with politics is often a token, people are putting all their energy into “getting the vote” and “getting this or that candidate” in office that they think that is what it means to be practical. It ignores the real world situation and tries to find someone other than oneself as the executor of all action. And another of my concerns, which I’ve posted many times on here, is that politics often seems have taken place of religious direction and devotion in today’s world; in other times, few people were concerned about politics, and more were concerned about their religious faith; today it seems the reverse. We should not all be politicians, we should not all feel compelled to engage “the news of the day” as if that makes our life worthwhile. The modern world wants to force us into that pattern. Whence is the Christian faith in all of that?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/05/20/lets-make-other-muslim-voices-heard/
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/04/27/if-we-want-to-live-as-christians-we-must-tame-the-tongue/
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/03/27/muslims-and-christians-working-together/
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/02/28/blessed-are-the-poor-2/#more-1980
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/02/23/lets-make-this-year-one-where-politics-is-not-done-as-usual/
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2008/02/14/some-of-my-thoughts-on-obama/

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    How did this descend to death tallying and psychoanalyzing those who do not affirm their superiority as partakers of Anglo-American liberalist traditions?

  • Henry, Mark,

    Like you guys, I want to make every thought captive to Christ.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  • I’m not sure how you could substantiate the claim that “Abortion is more of a capitalist phenomenon than a “socialist” one.” Especially in light of places like China or North Korea.

    Here abortion is strongly linked to the capitalist ideology of choice.

    The point of all that talk about Sweden was to point out that it is no better off than the United States, and is in many respects worse.

    No, the point of bringing up Sweden in the first place was to dispute your ridiculous claim that socialist countries kill millions of people as opposed to capitalist ones.

    Do you have any facts to back up your claim that Sweden is “worse” than the united states… other than your insight that there are probably some poor people there.

    There is no moral equalivance whatsoever between the more than 100 million slaughtered by collectivist countries since 1918 and those following the Anglo-American liberal tradition, even as there is plenty to criticize in both.

    1918 is certainly an interesting date for you to choose! Especially if you are intending to exclude the genocide of North American Native peoples.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    And the late, waning phases of British Imperialism….

  • jonathanjones02

    1918 was the beginning of the collectivist madness that drove Europe and Asia into the ground.

    Throw in the Native Peoples and everyone under “British Imperialism” and multiply the number of bodies x 1000.

    It still pales in comparison. Again, this is not to excuse any action, but only to reinforce the point that moral equalivance is outlandish. The cult of state organized unity is the worst and most destructive idea of humanity since the choosing of sin.

    It has led to the direct deaths of well over 100 million. It is utterly absurd to place Britain and the U.S. anywhere near this same sphere of terror.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    jj2,

    Let us concede O.K.

    If this lack of moral equivalence gets you through the night, (some would melodiously and therapeutically surmise) it’s all right.

    But what is this all about, really?

  • Michael,

    The conversation is not worthwhile when you insult my ideas rather than argue against them.

    Have you ever tried to recreate the arguments of people you disagree with, practicing intellectual empathy? After reading some of your responses on this post and others, I cannot imagine you have. I’m trying really hard to understand your ideas, to see if they are true and good. You don’t cut me any slack. If you think you do, fair enough, after all we seem to look out upon two different worlds. But from over here, I don’t see any empathy, only contempt.

    Maybe you really think other peoples ideas are just that stupid, that it’s not even worth your time to bother with considering them? I suppose I am just another captive of the capitalist ideology.

  • Zach – I did not intend to insult your ideas. I am merely asking you to back up your claim that Sweden is in many respects “worse” than the united states.

  • Various points in no particular order.

    Once again Trotsky is the elephant in the room here. He would remind us that there can be no such thing as “socialist countires” since “socialism in one country” is impossible, even more so in this second era of globalisation (1973-present) than in the first era of globalisation (1873-1914) when he formulated his theory of permanent revolution. For the Trotskyist tradition socialism is either global or it is not at all, and hence while capitalism was absent from the USSR, nonetheless the latter “deformed workers state” was not socialist either, but rather poised precariously between the extension of the revolution to the advanced capitalist countries and to the ends of the earth, or the restoration of capitalism by the Stalinist nomenklatura bureaucracy and the transformation of the latter into a noveau bourgeoisie by means of the most nakedly vulgar primitive accumulation. (The latter process was of course what eventually transpired, more or less along the lines that Trotsky had feared). Consequently Trotsky and his movement called for a political revolution in the USSR (and later in Eastern Europe) that would overthrow the bureaucracy and return “all power to the soviets”, and it was on that basis that Trotskyists offered critical support to repated workers insurrections behind the Iron Curtain: East Germany 1953, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1980-1 etc, none of which were carried out in the name of Milton Friedman (!), yet warning that the lack of a determined programme would simply lead to their betrayal and the restoration of capitalism, which is what in fact happened, with all the massive socio-economic destruction and collapse which occurred, and which blase Yanks tend to ignore. Solidarnosc et al were fighting for workers control, an end to bureaucratic privilege, a few more consumer goods, and the end of the secret police. They were not fighting for the turbo capitalist hurricane that subsequently swept through smashing up everything in its wake.

    I know I have mentioned Trotsky before, and risk sounding like a stuck record, but the near total ignorance of the most authentically vital strand of Marxist analysis and politics by many posters here and elsewhere is simply inexcusable. It’s like discussing twentieth century Catholic thought without mentioning de Lubac.

    The point about abortion being a “capitalist” phenomenon is that it is wholly bound up with the rhetoric of “choice”, of consumer preference and individual “freedom”. The freedom to dispose as one pleases of one’s workers, one’s assests, and one’s foetus, are all rooted in the same fundamental outlook, that takes as its starting point for reflection on human personhood the free roaming independent adult (white) male out there forging forward on the frontier, rather than the pregnant woman with her child. One child policies in the Third World are the flipside of the Nazi obsession with large families in the First World: both represent the bending of demographic policy to the “national project”, whether that be development or expansionism. (The other strand of abortion ideology is, ironically enough, high patriarchy: the woman claims over her foetus the same rights of absolute dominion that the Roman paterfamilias claimed over his entire household, namely life and death).

    For a flavour of the death toll that British imperialism was often responsible see a book entitled “Late Victorian Holocausts” that analyses the massive death tolls brought about by entirely man-made famines and laissez-faire capitalism in the Raj. The last of them came in 1942-3. Since independence there have been none, although there are signs that some of the causes thereof have begun to re-manifest themselves since India scrapped “national development” and turned to open itself to the full rigours of the world market. One could discuss examples from other continents and other imperialisms, eg Belgian Congo, or the genocide of the Herero in German SW Africa etc etc.

    One of the main reasons for the sheer bloodbath that was Stalinism, and later Maoism, was that they were attempting the impossible, as Trotsky pointed out. They were attempting to compress into a few decades what in Anglo-Atlantica had taken centuries (and when the screams of the victims had no world media to broadcast them).

    Considering that the raison d’etre of capitalism (ie the logical consequence of the unchecked operation of the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production over time) is the extermination of the peasantry as a class, and that Catholicism has historically been rooted most fundamentally in the peasantry, future historians will marvel greatly at how a massively influential section of self-styled “conservative” Catholics came to embrace with such irrepressible and unsurpassable ardour something that had sworn the ekklesia’s utter destruction in its deepest and darkest counsels.

    Marx is no more responsible for Stalin than Thomas Aquinas is responsible for Franco and the Ustashe.

    Ye Americans are but as children, with memories no more lasting than the morning dew, always “moving on”, and never learning.

    Socialism is the synthesis of feudalism and capitalism, in which every worker becomes an aristocrat, and all that is merely bourgeois perishes forever.

  • Ralph

    You should understand that for many people in Latin America becoming “marxist” doesn´t mean giving up their faith or religion. It´s the same as indegenous and African descendants becoming christian or catholic without giving up beliefs in all sort of non-christian spirits.

    I don´t kwow if Romero understood this, but I know other things about him, being El Salvador the country I grew up. Romero was weary of large popular organizations accepting violence as a legitimate way for social change. It was a very difficult situation for him, the country was ruled by a mix of oligarch capitalism and military. People wanted change, marxist organizations lead the change, many catholics and priests joined, and so the military and dead squads were shooting down activists and priests. Should they shoot back? Of course not said Romero, but What could the Church do? What can I do? was his question. Lead the change? Regime change? Surely Romero thought about that, but he needed support from other salvadorean bishops and the Vatican, he never got that support. So his message was you may fight along with marxists but remember we christians are not marxists. But he never was comdenatory of the marxists-lead popular organizations as he was of the elite that ruled the country. That its why even nowdays that elite hate Romero and why marxists are sympathethic of him, or even love him, at least feel a profound respect of him. What Romero said or not said about marxism is unnimportant in El Salvador, he stood along the poor people, that brave stance we don´t forget.

    (So, in El Salvador and Latin America, the distinction of who is a marxists and who is a christian makes sense for academics, theorists and theologicians, not for real day social activists)

  • Hey there!
    I know I’m a little late jumping into this conversation, but I thought you might want to check out this Romero story on BustedHalo:

    http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/remembering-romero/

    With all the squabbling over Obama and McCain I think it’s important to remember people are dying for (and because of) their governments. It sort of makes you take a different perspective on our own elections.