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Socialism: A Christian Heresy?


By Nicholas J. Healy |
Nicholas J. Healy formerly practiced maritime law in New York. He subsequently served as Vice President of Franciscan University of Steubenville, President of Ave Maria University, and President of Newman College Ireland.

When the Soviet Union collapsed internally during the extraordinary years of 1989 to 1991, it was widely assumed that communism was finished; the full-blown experiment of state socialism as prescribed by Marx and implemented by Lenin and his Bolshevik collaborators had come to an inglorious end. It could no longer be denied that socialism had failed in its promise of greater and more just productivity. Moreover, the oppression, cruelty, and sheer malevolence of its ruling cadres were now fully documented. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was right: The gulag archipelago was a natural and inevitable derivative of the system. Surely, we thought, no one with even a cursory knowledge of the 20th century could possibly advocate for socialism in the sense of state control of the entire economy, much less for communism as its purest and most advanced form.

Of course, we had to recognize that Red China had not abandoned its Marxist-Leninist ideology, despite brave (and fatal) demonstrations by Chinese citizens. Also, the regimes in Cuba and North Korea managed to survive, despite the crushing poverty and oppression they engendered. Yet these could perhaps be explained as historical anomalies.

What is far more difficult to understand is the adoption of socialism by formerly democratic states that enjoyed a degree of prosperity thanks to their free-market economies. The most poignant and painful of these is Venezuela, blessed with immense oil reserves and a well-developed private sector that furnished services and encouraged manufacturing. Despite its relative wealth and stability, Venezuelans chose socialism, first in the form of “Bolivarian socialism” as defined by Hugo Chávez, and then in a more extreme form as developed by his designated successor, Nicolás Maduro.

Yes, Latin America has a history of dictatorships, Left and Right, and even the few prosperous and developed countries of the region, such as Argentina, have been prone to political extremes that have badly undermined their once-thriving economies. Yet Venezuela was a country with a high standard of living in close proximity to Cuba (an economic basket case) that chose a system that has always led to a nation’s impoverishment — and often to a police state as well.

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