Thursday, August 6, 2015

Understanding Pope Francis Through Giorgio La Pira

I know that I have not been very good about updating this blog. To be frank, part of the problem is that I have been suffering from writer's block despite the many significant things happening all around the world. However, one subject that I really want to discuss is the American response to Pope Francis. As most people know, American conservatives are less than happy about the Pope's pronouncements on economic matters. Of course, liberals are also dissatisfied with the Pope's stance on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

None of this is particularly surprising if you understand that many Americans, including American Catholics, believe that the Church should conform to their own political ideas, as opposed to taking lessons from Church teaching when trying to navigate the difficult world of politics. Both conservatives and liberals want to enlist Christianity to their side, while keeping Christianity in a conservative or liberal box.

I imagine that Pope Francis seems less puzzling to people in Europe, where Social Catholicism was an important sociopolitical movement in the post-war era. That is why I am happy that Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, the current president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, wrote an excellent piece on Giorgio La Pira, the former mayor of Florence, Italy. Cardinal Ryłko presents La Pira as an example of a Christian who applied his religious principles to politics and policy. During his political career La Pira tackled many of the issues that Pope Francis has been discussing, such as unemployment.

Indeed, Cardinal Ryłko mentions the harmony between Pope Francis and Giorgio La Pira and their views on living the Gospel, especially with regard to the poor. La Pira was also held up as an exemplary Christian public official by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, so in this, as most other things, Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of his predecessors. Contrary to the way he is often portrayed in the media, Pope Francis is not a radical promoting a break with Catholic tradition. Indeed, the Pope's statements on social justice and other issues should sound familiar to anyone acquainted with Catholic social teaching and the history of Social Catholicism.

Unfortunately, figures like Giorgio La Pira are not well known in the United States, so Americans are often confused by papal teachings on social issues and cannot imagine a politician who is opposed to both abortion and the misery and alienation often caused by the operation of the capitalist system.

The result is that Americans are often left with an incomplete picture of Catholic social teaching. They cannot see how issues such as abortion and economic injustice are intimately tied to each other and cannot be properly understood in isolation. Hopefully Pope Francis will force more Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to rethink how they view the relatedness of these significant matters.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Stop Blaming "Cultural Marxism"

Syndicalist organizer and blogger Michael  E. Acuña has written perhaps the most perceptive piece on the "Cultural Marxist" canard that I have ever read. In his blog post entitled "On the Myth of 'Cultural Marxism,'"Acuña traces the history of this popular right-wing conspiracy theory. As Acuña notes, the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory states that, disillusioned by the failure of orthodox Marxist political parties in converting the Western working class to communism, a group of predominantly Jewish Marxist intellectuals (particularly the infamous Frankfurt School) decided that the traditional Marxist focus on class and economics was mistaken.

According to the Cultural Marxists, the Western working class was too culturally conservative to be attracted to revolutionary communism. Therefore, in order to undermine capitalism, a cultural change had to occur before any successful revolution would be possible in the West. Culture war thus replaces class war. By converting the Western elite to Cultural Marxism through the indoctrination process of university education, the Cultural Marxists hoped to change the culture of the West through the promotion of gay rights, immigration, multiculturalism, political correctness and other causes designed to weaken the traditionally conservative (and therefore anti-communist) culture of the West.

Acuña's dissection of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory is quite extensive so I do not wish to repeat many of his points here (please read his blog post and his more detailed paper on the subject). However, I do want to discuss two of Acuña's points that I find particularly relevant for cultural conservatives.

First, Acuña points out that multiculturalism and political correctness are not necessarily anti-capitalist either in origin or in their operation in the real world. Quoting Noam Chomsky, Acuña states that multiculturalism and political correctness aid the capitalist system's endless drive to turn individuals and groups into interchangeable cogs, differentiated only by their roles as workers and consumers. For example, by promoting multiculturalism and political correctness the capitalist class can more easily promote the importation of cheaper Third World immigrant labor to the First World. Opposition to discrimination based on categories such as race and gender becomes essential to the theory of meritocracy that forms the most important legitimizing myth in contemporary capitalism.

Second, Acuña discusses the hypersexualization of modern culture, yet another phenomenon that cultural conservatives often blame on Cultural Marxism. But as Acuña notes, the hypersexualization of contemporary culture owes more to the sales efforts of modern businesses that use sex in advertising than to Marxist intellectuals. Even though Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew, worked for corporations and  suggested that they appeal to baser human instincts to sell their products, his connection to the Frankfurt School psychoanalysts is largely coincidental. The fact remains that capitalists will seek to accumulate capital through any means necessary, and this includes using sex to sell their products.

Acuña's deft analysis of the Cultural Marxism myth reveals that it is primarily a convenient story utilized by conservatives who must explain why capitalism is producing social and cultural results that they find distasteful. The myth of Cultural Marxism is useful for two broad classes of conservatives. The first are those who, for whatever reason, cannot bring themselves to criticize capitalism so they must engage in self-deception to absolve capitalism of any blame for the destruction of their cultural and social environment.

The second group consists of right-wing propagandists who use the myth of Cultural Marxism to deceive culturally conservative workers and prevent their turn toward anti-capitalist ideologies. This group often cynically conscripts religion to the cause of capitalism, as exemplified by well-heeled think tanks such as the  Acton Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.

Cultural conservatives who bemoan their losing efforts in the Culture War should understand that their recent defeats on issues such as gay marriage are due to their inability to understand who (or really, what) their enemy is.  Amintore Fanfani, in his seminal work Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism, described how the capitalist state reduced the influence of Christianity and other forces that might impede the rationalization of society along capitalist lines. As Fanfani wrote:
"The one endeavor of capitalism has been to emancipate itself from ideas, or institutions based upon ideas, that impeded the economic rationalization of life." (Fanfani 1934: 92).
Fanfani also noted that state socialism, as practiced in the Soviet Union, engaged in the same economistic endeavor; the reduction of all aspects of human life to economic analysis and

As long as cultural conservatives continue to buy into conspiratorial myths such as Cultural Marxism, there will likely be no progress in repairing the cultural and social devastation wrought by capitalist efforts to completely rationalize human existence along economic lines. Cultural conservatives will remain an impotent faction of useful idiots who are fed nothing but red meat and empty slogans to prevent them from understanding the real forces behind the destruction of their cultural and social environment.


Acuña, Michael E. "On the Myth of 'Cultural Marxism.'" Common Ruin blog. Posted February 2, 2014.

Acuña, Michael E. "The Origins and Ideological Function of  Cultural Marxism." January, 2015.

Fanfani, Amintore. Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism. 1934. Reprint. (Norfolk, VA.: IHS Press, 2003).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Here on Earth, Tell Me What's a Black Life Worth?

In the coverage of the January 7, 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, France, another major story was arising in West Africa. This story also featured massacres committed by violent Islamists. I am referring to the recent massacre of some 2,000 Nigerian villagers by Boko Haram in the northeastern state of Borno. Compared to the loud and widespread outcry over the Charlie Hebdo murders, there has been barely a peep on the much more extensive destruction of black African lives by Islamists.

Of course, none of this is surprising. Black African lives are simply not valued as highly as those of Westerners. The more favorable treatment accorded to Western Ebola patients compared to Africans afflicted with the same disease is just one example of this phenomenon. As Owen Jones writes:
"When aid workers have succumbed to Ebola, they have been invariably flown out and given ZMapp, an experimental drug that seems to have saved their lives. British nurse William Pooley is one and – having been flown out and saved – he wants to return. But this treatment is denied to Africans dying from an agonising hemorrhagic fever, which leaves victims bleeding on both the outside and the inside."
Similar stories can be found relating to a number of issues. As the Catholic Bishops of Kenya noted in 2012, the aggressive promotion of contraception in African countries by wealthy Western organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while millions of Africans are mired in poverty, is both insulting and dehumanizing. Such policies assume that the best way to solve the problem of poverty is to simply do away with the poor.

There is little discussion of alternatives such as native African control of natural resources, as this would clash with the neoliberal Washington Consensus that denies to poor countries those same national development strategies used by the rich nations when they were in the process of industrialization. African countries are thus left with few palatable policy choices, and most countries are forced to adopt a neoliberal model. African life becomes a secondary or even tertiary concern, if it is even on the table at all. An outcome that is all too familiar to the people of Africa.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Don't Add Fuel to the Fire

There is no doubt that the vicious attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris which left twelve people dead was a criminal act of ferocious violence. In addition to the bloodshed, there is also the possibility that this attack will increase tensions between France’s Muslim minority and the rest of the country and empower both Islamist radicals and the far-right in France and Europe generally. 
Left out of the discussion, however, is the impact that the Charlie Hebdo attack will have on the fortunes of the virulent New Atheist movement.  The New Atheism represents an aggressive and confrontational brand of irreligion that has benefited immensely from the rise of political Islam and the violence that has followed in its wake.
It is not surprising that the New Atheist movement shot to prominence following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The 9/11 attacks and the resulting American-led War on Terror gave the New Atheists a platform to present the view that religion is inherently violent and divisive. In an ironic twist, some New Atheists, such as Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, defended the violent, divisive, and ultimately disastrous war in Iraq, a war that has likely exacerbated the problem of violent Islamism instead of containing and destroying it.
I fear that this latest high-profile terror attack will be used as yet another excuse to smear religion as a dangerous mental illness instead of prompting an investigation into the political origins of violent Islamism. The inability to view Islamism as an essentially political movement is a major reason why the West has fumbled so badly when dealing with the problem.
Charlie Hebdo, which lampooned Christianity and Judaism along with Islam, represents the privileged schoolboy view of politics that cannot imagine anybody taking anything seriously besides sex and money. This perhaps explains why Charlie Hebdo is so beloved by the New Atheists and their allies who have essentially the same mentality. Unfortunately, this attitude has hampered any serious debate about the role of Islam in the modern world and has only helped to increase bigotry against all religious people, most of whom are peaceful.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The French Model of Pro-Life Socialism

      Maurice Thorez, Jeannette Vermeersch and family

A recent article in The New Yorker regarding the rising abortion rate for poor women and women of color despite an overall decline of the U.S. abortion rate is a strong reminder of not only the growing class divide in the United States, but also the essentially anti-working class nature of abortion itself. While pro-choice figures will certainly discuss the need for better access to contraception, I doubt many prominent voices in the mainstream media will call for an end to the underlying economic problems that cause low-income women to seek abortions in the first place.
The anti-capitalist pro-life position receives little attention in the United States. France, on the other hand, has had a more interesting history of combining unabashedly socialist economics with strong pro-life positions. The French Communist Party once had a strong pro-life platform that not only included opposition to abortion and contraception as weapons aimed at the throat of the working class, but also supported positive policies such as generous supplemental salaries for the fathers of large families. More recently,  the French organization Socialistes Pour la Vie, held a march with signs baring slogans such as “Protect the Workers of Tomorrow” and "Right to Housing, Right to Work, Right to Life.”
The persistence of pro-life socialism in France is likely a product of the failure of Social Darwinism and eugenics in that country. As the French scholar André Pichot notes:
"France, as we have said, never had any specifically eugenic legislation, nor even a very strong eugenic movement. What is sometimes called eugenics in France is more properly described as public health policy. To speak of eugenics in this case is a play on words: etymologically, 'eugenics' simply means the science of good births, and in France these good births were seen as resulting from the health of the pregnant woman, conditions of childbirth and breast-feeding, rather than from selectionist measures to sterilize individuals deemed genetically incorrect. This particular aspect of French 'eugenics' was chiefly due to the influence of Pasteur and Lamarck, and no doubt also to Catholicism. France was strongly attached to the work of Pasteur, a national hero, and long remained reticent towards Darwinism, preferring the work of Lamarck. It is good form nowadays to claim that this held back the development of biology and genetics in our country (which remains to be proved), but it at least had the benefit of sparing us eugenic folly." (Pichot 2009: 161).
A "French" model of pro-life activism would therefore combine a reverence for the life of the unborn along with a public health platform focused on improving the health of pregnant women and their children. This platform is opposed to the selectionist eugenics that heavily influenced the pro-abortion movement in the United States through such malignant figures as Margaret Sanger.  

The socialist element would be similar to that advocated by former French Communist Part leader Maurice Thorez and his wife Jeannette Vermeersch and would include full employment, the nationalization of key industries, and supplemental salaries for the fathers of large families. A pro-life movement that holds unborn life sacred while promising economic reform measures designed to end unemployment and poverty would effectively destroy the argument that abortion is necessary for the welfare of poor women.


Pichot, André. The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler (New York: Verso, 2009).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chinese Workers and their Share of National Income

In an excellent article at Monthly Review, Hao Qi discusses the labor share question in China. The weakening of the power of the Chinese working class during the period of the transition to capitalism can be observed in the decline of labor's share of the national income. Today, however, workers' struggles for higher wages and better living conditions are becoming more common, pointing to possible changes in the Chinese economy. Hao Qi's article is very interesting and I strongly suggest giving it a read.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Eric Draitser has a fine article on the far-right elements of the Ukrainian opposition and the rise of the far right across Europe generally. A must read for sure.

Edit: Neil Clark also has a great piece on the subject of the Ukrainian far-right, here.