Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Still on Communism
Legionário, No. 670, June 10, 1945
I am not writing this article for people looking for entertainment but for those who want to reflect a little on certain rumors circulating profusely in our political environment.
They claim that Communists no longer uphold their old doctrines and, therefore, the Popes no longer condemn communism. Is it true?
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To begin with, what exactly does the assertion that today’s Communists no longer profess their old doctrines mean? Strictly speaking, nothing.
Suppose someone said, “Protestantism no longer upholds its old errors, and therefore a Catholic can be a Protestant.” What would such an assertion mean? Nothing.
Indeed, Protestantism is a specific doctrine minutely expounded by its respective leaders and condemned by the Church.
If Protestants give up this doctrine, one will not say that Protestantism has evolved and become Catholic. One will say that Protestantism has died, and its adherents have converted. Protestantism, a doctrine with its own characteristic errors, did not evolve. For a doctrinal current, to abandon its theses is synonymous with dying. Doctrines have their names and corresponding ideological content and must logically abandon their early denomination if their adherents abandon their earlier ideas.
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This is reminiscent of an anecdote from a museum where an old sword was exposed with the sign: “Sword that belonged to King Pedro II.” In time, woodworm surreptitiously devoured the wooden hilt of the weapon, and museum directors replaced it with a new piece. The sign remained. After a few more years, rust rendered the blade unusable. The management helpfully provided a new one. Everything had changed, and only one thing remained: the old sign: “Sword that belonged to King Pedro II.” Likewise, they claim that under communism, ideas have changed, and so have its supporters’ plans and mentality. Would calling this communism not be as grotesque as attributing to King Pedro II ownership of the museum’s sword?
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If Protestantism could evolve to the point of accepting all Catholic dogmas without ceasing to be Protestant, the consequence would be that Catholicism, without ceasing to be Catholic, could assume the entire Protestant doctrine by an equal and opposite movement. If a Communist can keep claiming to be legitimately Communist even though he has given up his ideology, a Catholic could legitimately call himself Catholic even though he has no longer professes Catholicism. For example, that is what Mr. Salomão Ferraz has done. Just ask any theologian what he thinks of such an attitude. In doctrinal terms, it is no less brutal than for communism to remain Communist but become Catholic at the same time. If a Catholic person accuses the so-called Free Brazilian Catholic Bishop of disloyalty, by what right can he take any “Communist-Catholic” person seriously?
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Yes, someone may say. Indeed, the term “communism” is inadequate for Reds who are no longer Communists. The expression evolved inappropriately, and today it designates, albeit erroneously, an entirely different, or at least considerably different, current.
Those who now call themselves Communists no longer have Marx’s ideas. Therefore, the Church can no longer condemn their program in the same terms that the Church condemned Marxism.
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“Their program”? What program? Where is it? Has any Soviet writer, thinker, or leader defined the new Soviet ideology clearly, precisely, and palpably? Where does this doctrine materialize in a very clear and tangible way so the Church can analyze it?
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The “Soviets” do not lack flamboyance. They say what they want and act flamboyantly whenever possible. Red is a stark color that seems to express gaudy Soviet tastes and habits. That said, why do they not speak up? Why do they not define themselves? Is this doctrinal ambiguity not suspect?
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Let us consider the problem from another angle. Soviet “leaders” everywhere are taking a bland attitude toward the Church and trying to convince Catholics that people in the USSR enjoy complete religious freedom. At the same time, they insinuate in a thousand ways that the social regime in force in Russia is no longer precisely Communist.
Now then, everyone knows that if the “Soviets” are saying this, it is because it suits them. True or not, they would keep silent if it was not helpful. It is no coincidence that they keep Russia as an impenetrable fortress to foreign reporters and equipped with a press utterly enslaved to the State. They say everything that suits them and only what suits them.
If it suits them to make believe (rightly or wrongly) that their doctrines have evolved, why do they not define their new doctrines? Why do they not demonstrate with meridian clarity that they no longer think as they once did? Why do they not promulgate their new doctrinal position officially and publicly?
Of course, there can be only one explanation: because now it suits them to adopt a seemingly conciliatory attitude but not cut off any possibility of resuming a hostile attitude.
They extend their right hand to us full of flowers while hiding their left hand behind their back. What is in it? Anything but roses. Nobody hides flowers. Sometimes they hide daggers.
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Let us continue to reason. They claim the Soviet regime today no longer is what it used to be and that the Soviets’ ideological evolution is happening in facts, not textbooks. Although this doctrinal absence from texts is disturbing, let us analyze this new argument. What is the proof of this concrete transformation? Comments about Russia are highly contradictory. As Legionário will opportunely demonstrate, from those comments, no one can safely scrutinize Russia. Extremely vigilant police incessantly guide visitors’ steps and freeze the tongues of ordinary people they try to talk to. In this case, what use are testimonies about insignificant events handpicked for foreigners to analyze?
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Let us admit, however, that the regime really is different from what Marx dreamed of. What does that prove?
All great revolutions have made strategic retreats. After a very frantic period, they usually withdraw, adapting the country for a while to an intermediate state of affairs, and then move on to bolder reforms.
That was the case in France. After the Terror, Napoleon finally came. Did he represent the end of the Revolution? Not at all. As they wittily put it, he was “la révolution en bottes” [‘the revolution in boots], the great achiever and propagator of the most lively and subtle principles of the Revolution. From then to this day, what has the Revolution done if not advanced? How did they achieve this huge advance, if not through successive periods of bold achievement and prudent retreats?
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Let us face it: this is not a strategic retreat. What does it concretely mean for a Catholic in the practical order of things, the claim that communism is applied in Russia very sparingly?
One must take into account that the Church condemned not only communism but also socialism—meaning any form of social organization in which the rights of the State are hypertrophied to the detriment of the natural and imprescriptible rights of the human person.
What can a “mitigated communism” be if not a regime in which that violates the natural rights of the human person, although in a somewhat less radical fashion? We must seriously admit that nothing in Russia happens without a hint of socialism (nor do top Soviet image-makers claim that).
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The Church has also condemned the socialist regime. At best, Russia’s much-trumped social evolution would prove that she has moved from a more detestable to a less detestable regime. Is it licit for a Catholic to adhere to or support erroneous doctrines because they are less detestable than others?
Pius XI defined that the words “socialism” and “Catholicism” are absolutely incompatible.
Therefore, if it were true that the Soviet regime has evolved toward less crude socialism, it would still be undeniable that a Catholic cannot favor such a regime. Whether Communist or socialist, that regime is equally condemned.
Let us conclude with a critical observation.
Do not think that communism and socialism are condemned only because of their anti-religious policies. In the absurd hypothesis that a State scrupulously respected all freedoms of the Catholic Church but implemented a socialist socioeconomic regime, that regime would be condemned as well.
The Church did not just condemn the religious policy of socialism or communism. She condemned the very essence of their socioeconomic system.
Thus, all versions of Russia’s vaunted religious freedom—which paradoxically coexisted with Soviet broadcasters’ attacks on the Vatican—do not alter the essential terms of the problem.
Even if the Church were as free in Russia as she is in France, Brazil, or Argentina, and even if the communist/socialist regime admitted the [institution of the] family and prohibited divorce, the Church would still forbid her children to adhere to them because of their economic aspect.
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From the above, one concludes that a Catholic cannot cooperate with a communist or socialist party, even hypothetically admitting a radical difference between these terms.
To cut off any discussion, let us remember that Pius XI condemned not only the socialist doctrine but also the very word “socialism.” He did not condemn the word “communism” only because at the time of the Encyclical Quadragesimo anno no one had dared to think of “Catholic Communism.” But if communism is nothing but the most radical form of socialism, the conclusion is easy to draw.