Category Archives: Socialism

The Evil of Socialism

“In 2019, 43 percent of Americans consider socialism to be a “good thing” and millennials are some of its strongest supporters.

Magazines such as Teen Vogue even run articles like “Everything You Should Know About Karl Marx” and “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People,” which says that millennials “expect a grand societal shift toward socialism” to counteract a “dystopian Mad Max nightmare” in which “rich plutocrats own everything.” Another poll found that half of young people say they would prefer life in a socialist country to a capitalist one.

But this flirtation with socialism is nothing new; in order to understand it, in fact, we need to go back to the Great Depression.

When you see how socialism thrived in that decade, you’ll understand why it’s making such a comeback today.

By the mid-1930s, following the stock market crash in 1929, the average family’s income had fallen 40 percent. But may- be they were the lucky ones compared to the 25 percent of Americans who were unemployed. For many people, volatile markets and greedy bankers were the villains responsible for taking people’s jobs and even their homes. In John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, banks are described as “monsters” that men make but can’t control, and capitalists are depicted as heartless pursuers of profit. For example, in one scene Steinbeck describes farmers dousing oranges in kerosene as starving people look on, because this was necessary to keep the price of oranges from getting too low.

Steinbeck doesn’t tell his readers that it was the federal government that ordered the farmers to do this. However, he does describe the resentment many average people felt toward an economy that seemed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor: “Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten . . . in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Before 1929, the Communist Party USA was a marginal movement, but during the thirties its explosive growth in membership led later historians to call that decade “the hey-day of American Communism.” However, most critics of capitalism adopted a more moderate socialism focused on redistributing wealth instead of launching a worker’s revolution.

For example, Democratic senator Huey Long blamed the country’s economic crisis on the small number of people who he said owned most of the nation’s wealth. In his notorious “Share Our Wealth Speech,” Long declared:

[T]he rich people of this country—and by rich people I mean the super-rich—will not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.”

THE RETURN OF SOCIALISM

Long proposed that no one be allowed to possess more than $50 million. He claimed that confiscatory taxation on wealth above that amount could provide every family with enough money to own a home, automobile, and radio, meaning that “there will be no such thing as a family living in poverty and distress.”

Despite such lofty promises, socialism didn’t catch on in America, partly because it was associated with distinctly anti-American values. While reflecting on his unsuccessful 1936 bid for the California governorship, socialist Upton Sinclair said, “The American people will take socialism, but they won’t take the label. . . . Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000.”

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

In the 2010s, struggling American families were still reeling from the Great Recession, after which the average family’s income fell by 4 percent and nine million jobs were lost—doubling the unemployment rate to a high of 9.3 percent. What angered people the most, however, were policies that seemed to allow the wealthy to hoard the country’s wealth at the expense of the poor. In 2011, protesters took over lower Manhattan as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, carrying signs saying, “We are the 99 percent.”

That slogan came from economist Joseph Stiglitz’s article “Of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent,” in which Stiglitz claimed that 1 percent of the population controlled 40 percent of the nation’s wealth and that, although their incomes had risen over the past twenty-five years, the incomes of the lower classes were stagnant or had even fallen. He ominously concluded:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Part of young people’s affection for socialism is grounded in a distrust of capitalism that grew out of the Great Recession.

Many millennials blamed the economic crisis on unregulated free markets, and polls show that between 2010 and 2018 their support for capitalism dropped from 68 percent to 45 percent. This skepticism made them the least likely generation in history to invest their savings for retirement. Some of them even believe retirement saving is pointless because, as one thirty-two-year-old political consultant put it, “I don’t think the world can sustain capitalism for another decade. It’s socialism or bust.””

Love,
Matthew

Can a Catholic be a Socialist?

“Socialism is a deadly plague that reaps a harvest of misery.” – Pope Leo XIII

“In the middle of the third century, the Roman emperor Valerian launched a fierce persecution against the Church that resulted in the martyrdom of Pope Saint Sixtus II along with seven deacons. St. Ambrose tells us that when the Roman authorities demanded that one of the deacons, named St Lawrence, hand over “the treasures of the Church,” he agreed. According to Ambrose, “On the following day he brought the poor together. When asked where the treasures were which he had promised, he pointed to the poor, saying, “These are the treasures of the Church.”

Christ commanded his followers to care for the poor and warned them that ignoring the poor was the same as ignoring him (Matt 25:40). As the Church grew within the Roman Empire, Christians became famous for their generosity, which included not just almsgiving but the construction of the first hospitals that served the poor. The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate lamented how Christians “support not only their own poor but ours as well; all men see that our people lack aid from us.” For the most marginalized people in Roman society, like widows and abandoned newborns, it was only the generosity of Christians that stood between them and a premature death.

Christian generosity continued to be the difference between life and death for many people even after Christians became the rulers of medieval kingdoms, in which there simply wasn’t enough wealth for the state to lift the masses out of poverty. But this began to change with the rise of modern capitalism, as is evident in Adam Smith’s famous 1776 essay, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” Christians now had the ability to create wealth, and with that power came moral questions about how to address the perennial problem of poverty.

In the century after Smith’s essay was published, revolutionaries in America and Europe tore down the authority of the monarchy and replaced it with democratic republics. Ultimate authority, the revolutionaries said, should lie with the people instead of the king. Other revolutionaries took this democratic ideal even further and said wealth and property should not lie with a few people (be they monarchs or capitalists) but should be owned by all. In 1871, some of these revolutionaries even took over the city of Paris for two months, establishing a “socialist commune” until the French army retook the city, killing thousands of communards in the process.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the revolutionary spirit showed no sign of slowing and even many Christians were becoming sympathetic to the socialist cause. Christians now had access to more wealth and political power than they had ever possessed in the history of the world, but it wasn’t clear how those things should be used to help the poor. All of this was on the mind of Pope Leo XIII as he wrote the introduction to the most famous papal encyclical to address the issue of socialism: Rerum Novarum (Latin: “New Things”). He says this “spirit of revolutionary change” is not surprising and notes:

“The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvelous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self-reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy.”

The pope goes on to describe how everyone is talking about these “new things” and so the Church, which teaches us on matters of faith and morals, “thought it expedient now to speak on the condition of the working classes.” The socialist revolutions of the nineteenth century spurred the creation of the Church’s social doctrine: the application of its teaching to issues that arise as society changes over time. When it comes to the application of timeless truths to changing circumstances the pope admitted:

“The discussion is not easy, nor is it void of danger. It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men’s judgments and to stir up the people to revolt.”

Although much has changed in the century since Pope Leo XIII penned these words, many things are still the same.

There may not today be calls for violent revolution in America or Europe, but there are grassroots movements seeking to establish socialism through democratic activism. Some of those movements even claim that a Christian is obligated to support socialist economies or else he does not truly follow Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In this book we will apply the Church’s social doctrine to the debate on socialism and show that not only are Catholics not obligated to be socialists, they—we—cannot be socialists. It is not a permissible or prudent way to address the problem of poverty.”

Love, truth, justice,
Matthew