TAG | Communism
To Pope Francis, Castro’s death was “sad” news, kind words indeed from someone who the former dictator would once have described as “social scum”.
Meanwhile, just two or three weeks ago the pontiff was being quoted favorably on Telesur (a TV network funded by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and, disappointingly in such company, Uruguay):
Asked [during an interview with the press ] if his pursuit and support for a more egalitarian society meant he envisioned a “Marxist type of society,” the pontiff said in response, “If anything, it is the communists who think like Christians…Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide. Not demagogues, not Barabbas, but the people, the poor, whether they have faith in a transcendent God or not. It is they who must help to achieve equality and freedom.”
Francis is not a communist (his ideology is better seen as a blend of left-Peronism and ‘a Catholicism of the people’, two strains of thought that themselves overlap). Nevertheless, to say that that description represents a very benign interpretation of what communism really is, is to put things very mildly indeed.
Then again, Francis’ line of argument is not so different from what Dorothy Day (1897-1980), the leftist Roman Catholic writer and activist possibly now headed for canonization, deployed in the Catholic Worker in July/August 1962:
We are on the side of the [Cuban] revolution. We believe there must be new concepts of property, which is proper to man, and that the new concept is not so new. There is a Christian communism and a Christian capitalism. We believe in farming communes and cooperatives and will be happy to see how they work out in Cuba. God bless Castro and all those who are seeing Christ in the poor. God bless all those who are seeking the brotherhood of man because in loving their brothers they love God even though they deny Him.
And Pope Francis, of course, is something of a Dorothy Day fan. Praised for her “passion for justice”, Day was one of “four representatives of the American people”, singled out by the Pope during the course of his speech to Congress in 2015.
Meanwhile from Forbes earlier this year:
The Obama administration has continued its effort to expand contact between the U.S. and Cuba by easing restrictions on travel, exports, and export financing. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke of “building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship.”
However, the administration expressed concern over Havana’s dismal human rights practices. Although Raul Castro’s government has continued economic reforms, it has maintained the Communist Party’s political stranglehold. Indeed, despite the warm reception given Pope Francis last fall, the regime has been on the attack against Cubans of faith.
In a new report the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide warned of “an unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum,” which has “fueled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion or belief.” There were 220 specific violations of religious liberties in 2014, but 2300 last year, many of which “involved entire churches or, in the cases of arrests, dozens of victims.” In contrast, there were only 40 cases in 2011…..
Sad times, indeed.
“Leninland,” which was two years in the making, focuses on the massive, tomb-like Lenin Museum at the estate outside of Moscow where the Soviet founder spent his final days and died. The museum complex was built there in 1987, after the period of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika had already begun….
In the “Leninland” trailer, a museum researcher named Yevgenia describes her work in an office decorated with a shrine of Lenin memorabilia mixed in with Orthodox and Buddhist images. “It isn’t about Lenin or defending a concrete person — no matter how wonderful a genius he was — and he really was unique, remarkable, Mahatma Lenin,” she says. “It is about a future for people that they must acknowledge.”
….A deputy director of the museum tells Kurov in the film that “the vibrations of Christ” are still felt on the territory of Lenin’s estate — ignoring the fact that this was the very place where Lenin, an atheist, dictated his instructions to the Politburo on the confiscation of church property and the mass persecution of priests.
Just another reminder that Soviet communism was indeed an expression of an all too religious impulse.
Prague, Sept. 15 (ČTK) — Rostislav Kotrč, a priest of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, will run for the Communists (KSČM) in the local elections in the autumn, daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
Kotrč, 40, at first wanted to join the KSČM, but now he only runs as an independent for the party as No. 2 on its list of candidates, MfD writes. Kotrč has been working in the Hussite church since 1999 and is the general vicar of the Christian Police Association.
“He wanted to join our party, but we agreed that it would be more sensible, also due to his relationship to the church, to only stay as a sympathizer,” a local Communist from the Hradec Králové eegion, east Bohemia, where he runs, told the paper.
Kotrč said he could not see any problem with him being both a priest and a candidate representing the Communists, MfD writes. “I know this is incomprehensible to many people,” he is quoted as saying.
“I think this is due to the constant media propaganda and bad understanding of the historical and theological context,” Kotrč said.
“My orientation is leftist and social. When looking into the Bible, and Acts of the Apostles in particular, which describe the origins of Christianity, one can read that people shared their property according to their needs,” he added.
“This is the basic principle of communism. Unfortunately, God was lost from the philosophy, which caused its deformation,” Kotrč said….
Sure, that was it.
For some reason Thomas Müntzer comes to mind.
Thomas Müntzer (ca. 1489 – 27 May 1525) was an early Reformation-era German theologian, who became a rebel leader during the Peasants’ War. He thought that the questioning of authority promoted by the Lutheran Reformation should be applied to the economic sphere….
Müntzer spent late 1524 in Nuremberg, but in mid-February 1525 was able to return to Mühlhausen. The following month, the citizenry voted out the old council and a new “Eternal League of God” was formed, composed of a cross-section of the male population and some former councillors. Müntzer and Pfeiffer succeeded in taking over the Mühlhausen town council and set up a communistic experiment in its place. Müntzer wrote to the citizens of Allstedt calling them to “join the uprising”: “Be there only three of you, but if you put your hope in the name of God—fear not a hundred thousand…. Forward, forward, forward! It is high time. Let not kind words of these Esaus arouse you to mercy. Look not upon the sufferings of the godless! They will entreat you touchingly, begging you like children. Let not mercy seize your soul, as God commanded to Moses; He has revealed to us the same…. Forward, forward, while the iron is hot. Let your swords be ever warm with blood!”
God certainly seems “present” in his philosophy. Communism is communism, with God or without.
A church in Montenegro has sparked controversy by displaying a fresco depicting Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito in the fires of hell with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The newly built Church of Resurrection in the capital Podgorica has already drawn criticism for its lavish design. Critics now say the church should not be interfering in politics. Works by philosophers Marx and Engels were required reading when Montenegro was part of communist Yugoslavia.
One church leader, named only as Dragan, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that Marx, Engels and Tito “personify communist evil in the Balkans” and the artist should be “allowed the freedom to see things as he wishes”.
…The church is not the only religious building in Montenegro to depict figures from 20th Century history on its walls. A monastery in Ostrog shows Hitler, Lenin and Tito together with Judas, who betrayed Jesus.
Seems reasonable enough.
The Wall Street Journal reports on the Pope’s visit to Cuba here.
One incident at the start of the papal visit left little doubt as to the state of political freedom in Cuba. Before an outdoor mass in Cuba’s second city of Santiago, an unidentified man yelled anti-government slogans before being bundled off by security agents.
Video of the incident showed him being escorted out from the crowd and accosted by an apparent first aid worker wearing a white T-shirt with a large red cross.
The Vatican confirmed the incident, but said it had no further information.
Cuban dissident groups expressed concern for the young man’s safety and urged the government to release him unharmed. “Until now, we’ve been unable to locate the whereabouts of this man who protested peacefully and was assaulted … and beat violently,” said a statement by Elizardo Sánchez, who leads a group that tracks detentions
I may be wrong, but I cannot see that sort of thing happening in the course of John Paul II’s visits to Communist Poland.
And then this:
On his way to Mexico last week, the pope bluntly criticized Cuba’s official orthodoxy, saying Marxism “no longer corresponds to reality.”
No longer? When did it ever?
But on the island itself, the pope’s message has focused heavily on spiritual matters, and his potential criticisms of Cuba’s regime have been oblique and open to interpretation.
Again, contrast the behavior of John Paul II when, as Pope, he returned on a number of occasions to a homeland still under Communist rule. The code that he used to criticize the regime was easy to translate and sometimes it wasn’t even (really)code.
See, for example, this description of the Pope’s words at a mass held at Solidarity’s Gdansk birthplace:
The highlight of the 1987 visit was John Paul’s homily during his “Mass for the working people” in Gdansk-Zaspa (the district of Gdansk where Lech Walesa lived). In this homily, delivered on “Solidarity’s” and Walesa’s home turf, John Paul II spoke openly to delirious applause: “There cannot be a struggle more powerful than solidarity. There cannot be an agenda for struggle above the agenda of solidarity”. (Note the characteristic ambiguity: solidarity or “Solidarity”? Is he speaking religion or politics? Is he talking about moral or political struggle?) After an interval of deafening applause, he added the most famous words of this visit, which also rank among the most famous of all his words: “That’s exactly what I want to talk about, so let the Pope speak, since he wants to speak about you, and in some sense for you”. In his visits to post-communist Poland in the 1990s, John Paul referred to these words several times as expressing one of his main missions during his earlier visits: to give voice to the silenced nation, to speak what they could not and to speak in their name to those who would not talk with them, as well as to the world at large
To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church was much more of a national symbol in Poland (even if we exclude the extraordinary impact on a captive nation of seeing one of their own being made Pope) than it is in Cuba today, and, to be no less fair, this current Pope may yet surprise his hosts in Havana.
Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that, when it comes to confronting a dictatorship, Ratzinger is more Glemp than Wojtyła.
When, writing in Bloomberg News, George Walden begins his review of a new book on the colossal Mao-manufactured famine that was among the most hideous atrocities of the twentieth century, he does so in a curiously forgiving way:
When Julie Nixon Eisenhower met Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1976, she wore a Mao badge — and thought it fun. More recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury [Rowan Williams] lamented the loss of a China that, under the chairman, had “guaranteed everyone’s welfare.”
After “Mao’s Great Famine,” Frank Dikotter’s chronicle of how that regime killed at least 45 million people in what he calls the greatest man-made famine the world has seen, no one will have any excuses for modish Maoism.
That’s too kind. No-one had had much of an excuse before, either. The horrors of Maoism have been well-known for decades, and the famine the Chairman created has been well chronicled (a good starting point is Jasper Becker’s brilliantly furious Hungry Ghosts from 1996).
One shouldn’t perhaps make too much of Julie Eisenhower’s fashion faux pas (Mao, after all, was, like the badge that bore his face, in some sense a Nixon family trophy), but the case of Rowan Williams is something else altogether different. All too often this over-promoted, and somewhat malevolent, parson is treated as a good-hearted holy fool. He is anything but. Williams, who has described himself, with sly self-deprecation, as a ‘bearded lefty’ is in reality an unpleasantly hard line ideologue. He would have known perfectly well about the hecatombs of Chinese communism (if you look at Williams’ words in their original context you can see that he is specifically referring to the time before the Cultural Revolution, in other words to a time that included the great famine), but this revolting prelate either didn’t care – or he felt that it was an inconvenient truth that could not be allowed to muddy the image of the egalitarian ‘social justice’ he is always so busy promoting.
The cult of Che Guevara (all those posters and tee-shirts, not to speak of the recent movie hagiography) is a persistent—and rather annoying—reminder of the way that the crimes of communism still rank oddly low in the popular imagination.
But if the Che cult is bad in the United States, in Argentina—the land of the murderer’s birth—it is worse. Please see below a few pictures I took recently in Buenos Aires. Some of this tat must have been aimed at the tourist peso, but I suspect that it also reflected a certain pride in a local boy made, uh, good, a pride about as perverse as, oh, I don’t know, maybe irony-free US tee-shirts commemorating “Charles Manson, American”, a design that may somewhere exist but, if it does, remains mercifully rare.
Well, you get the picture.
Then again, back in the USA there is this…..
From a FT review of China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom by Richard Baum:
One of the best stories [in the book] concerns the actress Shirley MacLaine, who was seated near Deng Xiaoping at a 1979 banquet. She explained to Deng how impressed she had been during a trip to China when she had met a Chinese scientist. He had told her how grateful he was to Mao for banishing him from his ivory tower and sending him to the countryside to learn about ordinary people and grow cabbages. “Deng, ever the polite listener, looked her squarely in the eye and said earnestly, ‘He was lying.’”
I recently read The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown. This is a general survey which runs roughly from the late 19th century down to the present day. Though there was a focus on the Soviet Union (for obvious reasons), Brown sheds light on the rise and fall of Communist movements the world over. He has a great deal of first hand knowledge as a visiting scholar in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, so there was an aspect of first-person reportage strewn across the narrative which made this a more lively read than a typical work of political scholarship. Much recommended. Three points which I thought were interesting:
1) Stalin was explicitly self-conscious about the fact that he was fostering a quasi-religious cult based around his own personality as a messianic and god-like figure. His perspective on the history of the Russian Empire was that only with this sort of mystical charisma could the Soviet system persist. To some extent the wind-down and decline of the Soviet system in the more oligarchic and colorless post-Stalin era seem to support his contention. The Communist states with cults of personality have persisted in more unreconstructed fashion than those without, North Korea and to a lesser extent Cuba. In contrast, Communist states predicated on party control and a more oligarchic power structure, such as China, Vietnam and Laos, are Communist in name only (as opposed to being more generally authoritarian).
2) The peculiarities of Mikhail Gorbachev’s personality seem to be one of those contingencies which changed the arc of events, at least for a time. In all probability the Soviet system would have had to evolve into something different due to economic forces, but Gorbachev’s influence likely hastened the shift by preventing the party from serving as a check on reform in the late 1980s. Additionally, his rejection of the use of force in Eastern Europe during the late 1980s was decisive in the relatively peaceful and seamless transition which occurred (there is scholarship which argues that in fact Soviet operatives aided and precipitated the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic). I recall as a child in the 1980s being perplexed by this figure who was the leader of the enemy of the West, as were my teachers (let’s just say Gorbachev really ruined many lesson plan templates). We were conditioned to be wary of the intentions, motives and means of any Soviet head of state. A friend recently suggested that Gorbachev’s ascendancy to the position of Secretary General of the Communist party was analogous to a closet atheist becoming the Pope. The reality is that after all these years the deeper roots of Gorbachev’s behavior and actions remain a cipher for many, as evidenced by persistent rumors that he is a believing Christian. He denies this and avows his atheism, which I think we should accept as likely a true reflection of his beliefs seeing as how most post-Soviet political figures have converted to Russian Orthodoxy (both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin converted after the fall of Communism, as have many other prominent figures such as the mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov).
3) Nice to be reminded in concrete terms how important price signals are.