Dialogue with Marxism?

Marxism is built on a faulty philosophical and theological anthropology

On January 10, Pope Francis met with DIALOP, a group of “European leftist politicians and academics that seeks to bridge Catholic social teaching and Marxist theory.” The Pope encouraged “dialogue” with Marxism.

“European leftist politicians and academics” can theorize over cappuccino and croissants about what Moscow has in common with Rome, but anybody who actually lived under Marxist regimes would quickly dismiss the musings of these useful idiots. (Mind you, “useful idiot” came from korisne budale, how the Yugoslav Communists in the mid-1940s described those Westerners naïve enough to collaborate with communists, so the term has “Marxist” sanction.) Robert Royal has an incisive takedown of Catholic-Marxist “dialogue” here.

I’ll not rehearse the sordid history of over 100,000,000 people dead in the twentieth century as a result of Marxism, a figure that makes Hitler (with whom the Russian Communists were allied) look like a rank amateur. My question, rather, is: Why is the Vatican so in denial about the uselessness of “Marxist dialogue”?

When I hear Vaticanista types spooning about “Marxist dialogue,” I see the spirit of Agostino Casaroli. One wishes that ghost be finally laid to rest. Casaroli was the architect of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik. His apologists would like us to believe it achieved openings for the Church in Eastern Europe. It did no such thing. Casaroli signed an agreement with Hungary. Eventually, most of the Hungarian hierarchy was thoroughly infiltrated by the communist party. He signed an agreement with Czechoslovakia. They’ll salute him for getting Frantisek Tomasek appointed as apostolic administrator of Prague. Truth is, by giving the communists veto power over episcopal nominations, by the time the nightmare of “Czechoslovak” communism ended in 1989, most sees were empty.

Poland managed to avoid the “benefits” of Casaroli’s dialogue only because Cardinal Wyszynski, as Primate, refused to allow Rome to decide anything about the local Church without the consent of that local Church—and the Church in Poland was not going to make the naïve concessions Casaroli handed out like candy from a machine.

Vatican policy towards communism took a realistic course only when someone who really knew something about Marxism — Karol Wojtyła — was in charge. Yes, to keep curial peace, Casaroli served as John Paul’s Secretary of State, but on a short leash. The policies towards Marxist states were decided by the Pope, not his Secretary of State. And those policies tended to dovetail with Ronald Reagan’s “naïve” vision: we win, they lose.

Under the Wojtyła-Reagan-Thatcher axis, “dialogue” was replaced by broad challenge and maximum pressure: religious, cultural, economic, and military. Rome stood with the oppressed local churches. It was only when Tomasek was convinced that Rome had his back did he develop his voice. Washington and London put the pressure on the oppressors. And, in the miracle of 1989, the puppet regimes in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania all died. Two years later, the blood red flag of the USSR was finally pulled down.

In some sense, Western Marxists are grateful for what happened in 1989-91; the disappearance of those bumbling, incompetent, and oppressive regimes were obvious disproof of anything Marxism had to offer. Now that “Marxism” could be a mental theory rather than the keeper of the Iron Curtain, one could put any kind of lipstick — even the best Maybelline New York — on that intellectual pig.

Never mind that the regimes which managed to survive the cleansing of 1989 — the Marxist regimes of East Asia and Cuba — remain among the most repressive with some of the worst human rights, including religious freedom, records. And how has Casaroli’s Ostpolitik gained a new lease on life in the Far Ost?

Meanwhile, Marxism became intellectually simpático in Bergoglio’s Latin America through its incorporation into “liberation theology,” a theological school whose origins may have been as much an Eastern Europe communist ops plant as an “indigenous” reading of the Gospel. Remember that the 1960s and 1970s were still the time when Fidel Castro could be sold as an “agrarian reformer” who stood up to the big, bad capitalist Yanquis. While I am no expert here, I have the impression that Bergoglio was somewhat more skeptical of these developments in his days back in Argentina. But they were the mindset of the “progressive” wings of Latin American Catholicism and found sympathy in the various trans-national episcopal statements that some take as a mirror for contemporary synodality. They certainly found resonance among Jesuits, who lent a sympathetic ear to liberation theology in conjunction with the reorientation of the Society of Jesus in General Congregation 32 to “the struggle for faith and the struggle for justice,” a motif to which the (now much shrunken) order continues to cling.

One also senses a certain nostalgia, especially among Rhine-to-Tiber Westerners, for a certain reading of Gaudium et spes’ treatment of atheism, the religion of Marxists. Some northwestern European churchmen of the time seemed to envision Marxists as romantic heroes fighting for justice, as red Robin Hoods perhaps just invincibly ignorant of God. If Jean-Jacques Rousseau had his myth of the “noble savage,” some Vatican II types had their myth of the “noble Marxist” who, despite his atheism, went around the world doing good and healing all those who were in the grip of capitalism, for God was with him, perhaps as an “anonymous Christian.”

Sorry, did such a fantastic animal exist? Anybody who understood the ideological foundations of Marxism and accepted them could not ultimately be morally upright, and anybody who called himself a “Marxist” without understanding those principles was engaged in false advertising, either out of ignorance or opportunism.

As our days show, most confusion in politics, culture, and broader thinking can often be traced back to a faulty philosophical and theological anthropology, on which Marxism is irreparably built. So, about what are we to “dialogue?”


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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