The past 100 years from 1917 to 2017 have been an encapsulation of the protoevangelium, when God told the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” This 100-years-war has signified a most pronounced phase in the enmity. It began in 1917 with both (what are the odds?) the revelation of Our Lady of Fatima and the Russian Revolution to atheistic Communism. For the past 100 years the mystical body of antichrist has undoubtedly taken its most grotesque form in atheistic materialism, embodied in Socialist and Communist governments around the world. The serpent became the Leviathan. Before the “October Revolution,” Mary warned in Fatima in July 1917 of Russia, saying “she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” The rest, as we know, is history.
In this month and year of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, it is a good time to recall the “satanic scourge” (as Pius XI called it) unleashed on the world through the wicked wiles of socialism and communism. This is particularly important as Western cultural elites and sympathizers, have long sought to minimize the evils of Marxism, as The New York Times seems to have been doing recently, as The Federalist described, with “a series of fond, nostalgic recollections about the good old days of twentieth-century communism.” Perhaps it is time to review again all the fun had in the “red century” with some relaxing bedtime reading like The Black Book of Communism or Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Or, maybe enjoy some uplifting reads about Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution?” Yay! Or, perhaps, just eat some popcorn and watch a little light entertainment like The Killing Fields.
Some may say, what about “twenty-first century Socialism?” Well, one need only take a quick scan of headlines on Venezuela. Not long ago Venezuela was a prosperous, oil-rich country, a Socialist miracle! Now, after 18 years of Chavez-Maduro Marxism, it is a Socialist hellhole. Many in the country have been reduced to starvation (a Communist specialty) and descended into stealing and eating zoo animals, with apparently a particular delicacy for collared peccaries and buffalo. This, sadly, is not an aberration in Socialist experiments, but the norm. It is probably more palatable, however, than the grass and bark diet in the prison-state of North Korea. The hard facts of history reveal that Communist demagogues killed up to 140 million people (as Dr. Paul Kengor cites in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism) from Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Kim Jong-un to Chavez to Che and Fidel. The list goes on and on. Lenin did say, after all, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet; 140 million broken eggs, now that is a big omelet!
The Church, on the other hand, was never fooled by the cons of socialism and communism. From the beginning, encyclical after encyclical railed against the false ideology of Marx and Hegel. In fact, it is right there in the Catechism: “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism.’” (CCC 2425) Whereas the Catechism is brief, the papal encyclicals are rich in detail and sweeping in condemnation.
In 1846, Pope Pius IX promulgated Qui Pluibus (On Faith and Religion), beating Marx to the punch, who published The Communist Manifesto in 1848. Pius IX wrote about the “unspeakable doctrine of communism,” which is “a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone’s laws, government, property, and even human society itself would follow.” He warned about “the most dark designs of men in the clothing of sheep, while inwardly ravening wolves.”
In 1878, Pope Leo XIII wrote about the evils of socialism in Quod Apostolici Muneris. He began his encyclical about “the deadly plague that is creeping into the very fibers of human society and leading it on to the verge of destruction.” Pope Leo then singled out “that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth in the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning—the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever.”
The encyclical also warned that Socialists sought to destroy marriage and the family. For Socialists, there can be no higher allegiance to God or family, but only to the almighty State. Pope Leo asserted that the “foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law.” Yet, the “doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union.”
Thirteen years later in 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued another encyclical on labor and capital and the working class in Rerum Novarum, the foundational text for Catholic social teaching in the modern age. Wrote Leo: “To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property…” This, the Church declared, is “emphatically unjust,” and the “remedy they propose is manifestly against justice. For, every man has by nature the right to possess private property as his own.”
Socialism is built upon the notion of coveting, a violation of the ninth and tenth Commandments. Rerum Novarum pointed this out: “The authority of the divine law adds its sanction, forbidding us in severest terms even to covet that which is another’s.” Socialism is also built upon the false idea of class warfare. Here too, Pope Leo dismissed their error: “the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth.”
As in earlier encyclicals, Pope Leo again defended the institutions of the family and marriage against the attacks of socialism: “the family … has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.” “The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.”
In 1931, Pope Pius XI released Quadragesimo Anno on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, which it called the “Magna Carta” of Catholic social teaching. Pope Pius stated bluntly: “We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, socialism … is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” Pius went further stating: “If socialism, like all errors, contains some truth, it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
But, what about Socialism-lite? Pius dismissed this too rather succinctly: “We have also summoned communism and socialism again to judgment and have found all their forms, even the most modified, to wander far from the precepts of the Gospel.” Pope John XXIII also would later reiterate this point in his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra saying “Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate socialism.”
To be fair, Pius did take extreme “individualism” and capitalism to task to respect the human dignity of the worker, who “cannot be bought and sold like a commodity.” He pointed out what is needed is not an excessive reaction, like the Socialists propose, to destroy the whole free market system, but rather, the “first and most necessary remedy is a reform of morals.” The Church’s stance has always been a measured approach, protecting the rights of both the employer and the employee through a return to Christian charity and concern for one’s neighbor.
Pope Pius left his harshest criticism for the “Communist plague.” He skewered it with such lines and paraphrases as: “Unrelenting class warfare and absolute extermination of private ownership”; “employing every and all means, even the most violent”; “its cruelty and inhumanity”; “The horrible slaughter and destruction”; “openly hostile it is to Holy Church and to God Himself”; “impious and iniquitous character of communism”; “seeks by violence and slaughter to destroy society altogether”; “pave the way for the overthrow and destruction of society.”
Pope Pius XI was not done. In 1937, he issued another encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, on atheistic communism. Pius did not mince words again. He exhorted that “the Faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.” “It is a system full of errors and sophisms.” The encyclical was aimed directly at the “imminent danger” posed by “bolshevistic and atheistic communism, which aims at upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization.”
Communism is particularly insidious as it “robs human personality of all its dignity.” “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity.” In the collective, “all forms of private property must be eradicated.” The collectivity also rules over marriage and the family. “There exists no matrimonial bond … that is not subject to the whim of the individual or of the collectivity.” Think “postcard divorces.” The spread of communism has been aided by a “diabolical” propaganda of the “sons of darkness,” and a “conspiracy of silence” by the non-Catholic press, due in part “by various occult forces which for a long time have been working for the overthrow of the Christian Social Order.” Sounds familiar.
In 1991 Pope John Paul II issued Centesimus Annus for the 100th year anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It re-stated the Catholic teaching that the root problem of modern totalitarianism is its denial of the transcendental dignity of the human person. “Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” Militarism and Marxist class struggle are derived from the “same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.” As Bishop Fulton Sheen wisely observed, “communism tries to establish the impossible: a brotherhood of man without a fatherhood of God.”
George Orwell knew well this Socialist deception, adapting the mantra in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal.” Yet, as the pigs declare later in the story “some animals are more equal than others.” Their true colors eventually come out. This is the Orwellian doublethink of the Party. How eerily reminiscent are crimethink and the thought police of 1984 to the current environment of political correctness on American campuses and in European governments. The Berlin Wall may have come down and the U.S.S.R. been dissolved but cultural Marxism is as strong as ever. The progressive vanguards of the Left continue on as the ideological heirs of the twentieth century Socialists and Communists. They carry on the revolution by embracing the “errors of Russia” and attacking private property, free markets, individual liberty and free speech, traditional marriage and the family, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. There may not be at this moment an “Evil Empire,” a singular totalitarian state, but there is a totalitarian state of mind present; the imperious impulse in the media and our educational, governmental, and judicial systems. Big Brother is still lurking.
Still, we have hope. The Church did triumph over Soviet communism. And, Christ has given us the blessed assurance that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church. In the dreary days of 1917, amidst World War I, and the unleashing of the evils of atheistic communism, the Virgin Mary promised, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Yes, Leviathan continues to lash out and rage, but its head has already been crushed.