José P. Miranda: Marxism and the Papal Encyclical, 1971

marxandthebiblecover“It is well known that many European and North American evaluations of Populorum progressio referred to it as “the complete résumé of Marxist and pro-Marxist cliches.” But this judgment is not only the resentful position of conservatives. Already in 1951, years before the publication of the encyclical and even before Mater et Magistra, Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J., a recognized spokesman for Catholic social doctrine in Germany, had this to say in his commentary on no. 100 of Quadragesimo anno: “This analysis of economic society and–for what it says concerning the industrialized countries–of society as a whole is the imperishable achievement of Marx. All subsequent critiques of capitalism are based, to one degree or another, on it.”

And in 1967 the same author in his article on “The Catholic Church and the Marxist Critique of Capitalism” spells out how “we are all riding on Marx’s shoulders.” There is no doubt that the encyclicals take their diagnosis of society from Marx, a society divided into classes, in which some are owners of the means of production and others, the proletariat, are able to contribute only their own labor and are forced to submit to the decision-making power of the capitalists. The inevitability of the confrontation between the two classes, affirmed by Quadragesimo anno, is also a thesis taken from Marx; the only difference is that Pius XI calls “confrontation” what Marx calls “struggle.” The necessity of building a classless society–with the difference that Marx calls it such while the pontifical doctrine terms it a “society free of classes”–is another noteworthy loan. The need to conceive and seek a transformation of structures and institutions and not only a reform of attitudes and persons, as Catholics taught before Marx, is another outstanding and most important example. With the transformability of institutions we also learn from Marx to think with a historical mentality about the social problems; this is perhaps still more important.

To this analysis of Nell-Breuning we could easily add a whole list of passages and argument from Populorum progressio which directly or indirectly are derived from Marx. The list would include paragraphs of the greatest human profundity, those dedicated to the search for “a new humanism which will enable modern man to find himself anew” (Populorum progressio, no. 20). The encyclical affirms, “The development of which we speak cannot be limited to mere economic growth. . . . We do not believe in separating the economic from the human” (no. 14). Here it is well to recall Bigo’s statement in 1953 about Marx’s conception of science. It is an understanding of phenomena from the inside. It is directed not toward appearances but toward reality. It presupposes a constant effort, when dealing with the economic reality, to pass … from a material viewpoint to a human viewpoint.

When there are so many and such important derivations, recognized not only by liberals but also by the most authoritative Catholic authors, it is disconcerting to find in Populorum progressio an attack against what it calls “messianism laden with promises but fabricators of illusions” (no. 14, original Italian version), for it is clear that the allusion here is to Marxism. It would be more accurate to recognize that it was the messianists who, by risking their lives and even losing them and by renouncing any advantageous social position, struggled for social justice against capitalist oppression long before the Church did. It would be more accurate and truthful to affirm that it was precisely this messianic element, the polarizer of immense proletarian masses, which forced a pope finally to come out in favor of the workers, as any reader of Rerum novarum can see. If the risk was much less and the acceptability much greater when the popes finally spoke up, this was because of these messianists. It was they who without assured social status and in the midst of the illegality with which the capitalist legislation afflicted them sacrificed everything for the poor and the oppressed. It was they who had to struggle even against the Church itself, which later took from them its ideas of justice.

Of course, in the Western socio-cultural system the Church is not the only institution which has adopted intuitions of Marx without publicly acknowledging it. To cite just one example we need look only to the schools of philosophy and economics in our universities. At one time Marx’s contributions to both disciplines were disdainfully considered as less than irrelevant; now there is an overwhelming need to study his theses with great dedication. But institutions have always demonstrated a conspicuous inability to repent, to recognize errors and injustices and remedy them. Thus we must realize that it is not enough merely to take seriously today the Marx whom we scorned yesterday; nor is it enough to execute almost imperceptibly some effectual change. The former preterition was not a mere careless omission. If we are to abandon yesterday’s position, we must also revise the whole system of ideas and values which made such a position necessary. Real conversion is needed, not lukewarm concealment of changes which are made underhandedly.

A work like the present one cannot escape the fact that this approach has caused in the Church a situation which, as much as we might dislike it, must be called division. The teaching of Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI that there is no absolute right to ownership unites broad sectors of Catholics, while others espouse paragraphs like no. 15 of Rerum novarum or the rejection of violence by Paul VI in Bogota or this teaching of Pius X which makes one marvel: “In the order of human society as established by God there are rulers and ruled, employers and employees, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, nobility and proletariat.” These paragraphs were never revoked, yet other teachings have taken a completely different direction. Thus if anyone were to claim to support the papal doctrine in its totality, he would be either insincere or ignorant of the doctrine. This would also be true of anyone who wished to reconcile Vatical II with Pius IX and the Syllabus. The unity is broken and any apologetic in this regard is a lost cause. This is not pluralism but a real and true division with which we must reckon from now on. Michel Blaise puts it clearly: “The unity of the Catholic world is broken.” If we are to take seriously and with all their implications some of the most important papal teachings, we cannot promise to arrive at conclusions which are completely reconcilable with all the papal declarations which have been made and not revoked. They are not completely consistent. It would be more humble, although not exactly more favorable to Catholic unity, to follow the directive of Paul VI: “It belongs to the laymen, without waiting passively for orders and directives, to take the initiative freely and to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the community in which they live” (Populorum progressio, no. 81).

The situation of the Church little lends itself to triumphalism. Thus, the present work is able to point out the ideological causes of capitalist oppression without pretending that these philosophies have not existed and do not now exist in the Church. I fell into this partisan approach in an earlier book, Hambre y sed de justicia.

If there were no divisions in the Church, as certain officious declarations would have it, the leftist sectors would already have left the Church, for they could not tolerate being identified with those who support exploitative social regimes. If they were to be asked why they do not leave, they would have incomparably more right to return the question: Why do the rightists, as a Church of the rich, insist on belonging to an institution which was established to be the Church of the poor?

As regards the method of this work, the initial question which we pose is this: How was it possible that Catholic doctrine defended private ownership of the means of production? The first chapter points out how astonishing this is, given the antecedents in the Bible and the tradition of the first four centuries of Christianity. The rest of the book is a positive effort to understand the mentality, the very way of thinking, which we find in the Bible, for the position to which we have alluded follow a manner of thinking which is common to both Christian theology-philosophy and to Western science, and indeed to Western civilization in general as derived from the Greeks. […] Private ownership is treated only in the first chapters as an initial example; it is however, an example which is extremely important in itself and for economic theory.

On the other hand, Marx’s critique of Western political economy and philosophy is not for us merely an example. I am explicitly retracting here the position I affirmed in Hambre y sed de justicia, that is, that the dialectical mentality is incompatible with a genuine morality. I was deceived by my own superficiality when I read Marx’s criticisms of morality. The truth is, as I explain in the last chapter, that it is precisely an acute moral sense which makes thinking dialectical; it makes one unable to resign oneself to a present reality that is without contradictions and that therefore remains forever as it is. Only dialectical philosophy is capable of discovering in past and present reality the inexorable exigency for a more human world. Marx could not relate this exigency with the pantocrator god that the oppressive West adored and continues to adore. I assume his rejection of this idol and of all idols; see chapter 2.”

José Porfirio Miranda
José Porfirio Miranda

— from José Porfirio Miranda’s “Introduction” in his Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression (1974), pp. xiii-xvii. Translated by John Eagleson from the Spanish, Marx y la biblia, Critica a la filosofia de la opresión (1971), Ediciones Sigueme, Salamanca.

Carleton Beals: Arévalo, Guatemala and Kommunism, 1963

Giuseppe Garibaldi set out to free Italy with seven armed men and a mule. At the end of March, 1963, after seven years of exile, formed President of Guatemala Juan José Arévalo returned to his country to free it from dictatorship — without any armed men and without a mule.

Garibaldi had a long bitter struggle to sweep out foreign invaders and petty tyrants. But within twenty-four hours of Arévalo’s arrival to announce his candidacy for the November, 1963, elections, Dictator Miguel Ydígoras was flying into exile in Nicaragua.

Unfortunately the Guatemalan coup in no way represented liberation. Rather it was a further tightening of existing military brutality over a land already long mangled and trampled upon. The gorilla chewing up the little banana kingdom with his tanks and guns is General Enrique Peralta (Ydígoras’ own Minister of War). He is a creature well trained in the United States for such monkey-shines (i.e., how to administer the local police state), and has been provided by our authorities with an over-kill supply of weapons and planes.

The reason for the armed coup is a reductio ad absurdum of the McCarthy mind. Dictator Ydígoras was “too soft on Communism.” Yet Ydígoras had been perhaps the most conspicuous, ranting anti-Communist in the hemisphere. He had been the ideal yes-man for the United States office of colonial affairs which is misnamed the Organization of AMerican States and is largely made up of representatives of the local police states dutifully rubber-stamping Washington orders. Ydígoras had hung by his tail, making grimaces and threats.

Actually there were few Communists in Guatemala; they had been killed, jailed, or exiled. So were the leaders of all other independent parties–all except leaders of a small Catholic Party and Ydígoras’ own little party (which was unable to win an election even though 73 per cent of the voters had been disenfranchised and the polls were presided over by bayonets). All labor, peasant, teacher, and other civic organizations had been destroyed. But he was “soft on Communism.” And so a bigger gorilla now hangs by his tail, making wider grimaces, shouting worse epithets at Communism, and crunching the banana republic in his big teeth.

The real fear, of course, was of Arévalo who, having been the first president to do something for the people since Rufino Barrios a hundred years ago, was bound to be elected right in the teeth of the bayonets. The elections had to be prevented at all costs.

It is precisely with this fraudulent anti-Communism in the Latin American police states that Arévalo’s book deals so competently. Nothing points up the truth of this book better than the seizure of power by Peralta in Guatemala. Those who have read Arévalo’s previous magnificent and fearless book, The Shark and the Sardines (Lyle Stuart, 1961), already know his brilliant style, his uncompromising thought, his hard-hitting turths, always wrapped in the silk of irony and satire. It was one of the few books ever published in this country giving the viewpoints of the Latin American people rather than that of the State Department and its dutiful yes-men rules of South America. Now in Anti-Kommunism in Latin America, Arévalo once more displays his brilliance and insights.

The present volume was first brought to my attention in 1961 in Buenos Aires by one of its Spanish-language publishers, Gregorio Selser. Selser is a fine editor and the author of three excellent books on Nicaragua and Guatemala. The last of this trio is a full-fledged exposé of the 1954 C.I.A.-sponsored invasion to overthrow the government of popularly elected Jacobo Arbenz. Selser pushed Arévalo’s book into my hands almost as soon as I stepped off the plane.

“Read it! Read it!” he told me. “Here is the key to the policies of Washington that are driving us back down the bitter road of militarism.” Not long after this, the tanks rolled into Buenos Aires, in Peru, in Ecuador, in Salvador, in Brazil, as they have now rolled again in Guatemala.

Into the crazy patchwork quilt of words that concern “the noxious flower of Communism”–anti-Communism, anti-anti-Communism, anti-anti-anti-Communism, crypto-Communism, para-Communism, philo-Communism, the Communist conspiracy, fellow-traveler Communists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Marxists, deviationists, the Red menace, Communist-front organizations, State Department Communists, and so forth– Arévalo introduces two new expressions: “Kommunism” and “anti-Kommunism.” Humorously they correspond to the trend of North American advertisers to substitute “k” for “c,” and are exceedingly useful. One realizes at once that they are utilized to distinguish between real Communism and fake McCarthy Communism. They serve to prick the bubbles of the ridiculous kind of propaganda being put out in Latin America by local dictators and the enormous propaganda machine built up there by U.S> gold and bayonets. They let out some of the poison of the distortions being peddled by the American Information Service.

Arévalo begins with a simple anecdote about the murder of two innocent boys by a Guatemalan military officer, who justifies his crime by calling them “Communists.” He proceeds to a devastating analysis of the operations of the police states of Latin America (that includes nearly all the countries), which are subordinate to Washington’s mandates; and shows how anti-Communism (in reality anti-Kommunism) is used to maintain their nightmare rule and to try to destroy all freedom, all intellectual independence. Much of this mechanism and propaganda is directed from abroad.

He explains why the Catholic church–and he reaffirms his own Catholicism–has taken up the anti-Communist fight. He goes into the age-old philosophy of the Church, the conflicts between its creed and its institutionalized aspects. Its anti-Kommunism has far different aims than that of official U.S. policies and, in spite of its present alliance with official Washington and apparently with Protestantism, its purposes in the matter of control of the state and in education are far different. Dr. Arévalo is caustic indeed toward those high prelates in Latin America who have betrayed their trust and their doctrine to serve the interests of police-state rules, foreign corporations, and foreign embassies rather than their own true followers.

He goes on to the “Geese of the Capitol,” the big Madison Avenue boys who will stage any kind of propaganda for hire, to the big news moguls of our mass magazines and our big periodicals: the Hearsts and Luces. The second-file geese, kept in the pens or away from the main portals, are the lesser journalists who hire out their talents to echo the official party line. He presents an almost terrifying picture of monopoly of the news, of the press, of propaganda corruption, of the betrayal of freedom of the press in both North and South America.

This is a powerful, fearless book that blows away cobwebs and hypocrisies. Behind his exposition there is a deep philosophy, a far-reaching knowledge of history, economics, and sociology– an erudition that ranges over the centuries. It is a book beloved in Latin America and has circulated widely over the continent in many editions in at least three countries– even in countries where it is Verboten. Thanks to Lyle Stuart’s editions in English, we now have a chance to share in this enlightenment and to know our neighbors better.

Juan José Arévalo
Juan José Arévalo

I first met Dr. Arévalo in the National Palace about a year after he took office; a tall, smiling, dignified personage with a curious air almost of boyish eagerness and professorial otherworldliness. He had extraordinary powers of precise logical thought and vivid verbal expression. Already he had brought to his country a new dynamic spirit of enterprise and hope. No longer did soldiers parade every block of the capital with their rifles at the ready. The only ones I saw were in the enormous barracks (the largest edifice in the city) which had been constructed along with similar ones in every hamlet in the country by Dictator Jorge Ubico, with U.S. money.

“Where are the soldiers?” I asked him.

“They are working the haciendas confiscated from the Germans during the war. They already produce their own food. Guatemala is too poor to afford an idle army of soldiers who gamble and get drunk in the barracks and think up depredations against the people.”

Arévalo had stopped the army roundups of Indians, formerly dragged from their homes with ropes around their necks to toil on the haciendas for a few centavos a day, wages mostly pocketed by the army officers. He had established a minimum wage — at first it was thirty-five cents (which was more than twice the prevailing wage even for day laborers in the capital). Later it was raised to over a dollar a day. In this book he tells how he found farm workers in Peten working for four cents a day and how he put an end to it.

Already he had set up schools with instruction for them in their native Maya Quiché and Cachiquel languages. Magazines and newspapers were being issued and radio broadcasts given in their native tongues. And all Indians, for the first time in Guatemala’s history–and they make up two-thirds of the population–were given the right to vote. That right has since been stripped away by the U.S. imposed dictatorships, along with Arévalo’s land reform, his labor reform, his new schools, and his rural clinics. He had started a crash program of housing on every hacienda in the country. That, too, was paralyzed by the C.I.A.-promoted invasion.

Already he was building highways to the coast to free the land from the United Fruit railroad monopoly, which charged more on goods from the ports to the capital than the same goods paid from any place in the world. He was building a new port alongside Puerto Barrios which would be free from United Fruit control, a control of all ports obtained from previous dictatorships. For a half century that monopoly had prevented any other steamship companies of the United States or any other country from setting up regular passenger and freight service for Guatemala.

His reforms were fought tooth and nail by the U.S. Embassy; presently all aid money, so lavishly granted to Dictator Ubico, was cut off. The United Fruit Company established a maritime boycott which cut off nearly all imports, except by way of Salvador and Mexico.

The full, documented story of the aggression against Guatemala has been told in three notable books: by Guillermo Toriello, La Batalla de Guatemala: by Gregorio Selser, El Guatemalazo; and by Luís Cardoza y Aragón, La Revolución Guatemalteca— none of which has appeared in English. The present volume by Arévalo, continent-wide in its scope, explains why the American people have never been told the truth about Guatemala. It will explain which his mere presence in his native country to participate in an election that will not be held brought out the tanks and the gorillas. It explains why the Guatemalan people must not be free, nor those in the other banana kingdoms recently visited by President Kennedy.

— Carleton Beals, “Introduction”, in Juan José Arévalo’s Anti-Kommunism in Latin America: An X-Ray of a Process Leading to a New Colonialism, p. 9-15. Originally published as Anti-Kommunism en América Latina, 1959.