Last week Pope Francis attacked the 'tyranny' of 'unfettered capitalism'. Is there a Red in the Vatican? Not quite...
Last week Pope Francis startled many with his attack on what he described as the 'new tyranny' of 'unfettered capitalism'.
In his first major written work, the Evangelii Gaudium, an "apostolic exhortation" sent to the entire Roman Catholic Church, Francis offered a radical critique of capitalism that would never be even contemplated by so-called 'progressive' social democrats like Barack Obama, Ed Miliband and our own David Cunliffe. Unfortunately his solution to this 'new tyranny' is no solution at all and a 'solution' that would be comfortably embraced by the three 'social democratic' leaders.
But such was the nature of his attack on capitalism that it earned the first Latin American Pope the ire of conservatives like American radio talkback host Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh has characterised the Evangelii Gaudium as 'just pure Marxism'.
Bizarrely Limbaugh has even suggested that a 'Man of God' could not of been the real author and that 'somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him." Russell Brand perhaps?
So what exactly was it that got Rush into a lather? Well, it was statements like these:
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Francis then proceeded to denounce one of neoliberalism's central tenets - the 'trickle down theory'. He writes:
...some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
The Argentinean born Francis has clearly been influenced by Liberation Theology. It emerged from Latin America in the 1960s.and was a direct political response to the poverty and injustices that ordinary people confront everyday.
Liberation Theology declared that the church should act to bring about social change, and should ally itself with the working class to do so. Perhaps its most important manifesto is A Theology of Liberation, written in 1971, by Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian priest and theologian.
Liberation Theology was heavily attacked by the Vatican and the conservative Pope John II closed down Catholic institutions that taught it.
But Francis has now brought back Liberation Theology back into the heart of the Vatican, although only to a point.
In September this year he held a meeting with the formerly ostracised Gustavo Gutteriez and an essay subsequently appeared in the Vatican's semi-official newspaper. The essay asserted that because Francis is the first pope from Latin America, liberation theology can no longer 'remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe.'
Although this comment was largely missed by the corporate media it did raise alarm in some conservative Catholic circles.
But they have little to worry about really. While Francis embraces much of Liberation Theology's criticism of capitalism he retreats from the logical conclusion that capitalism must be overthrown.
Having attacked the tyranny of capitalism he then appeals to the 'better nature' of the tyrants! He wants the tyrants to 'share' their power and wealth! He wants them to stop oppressing the working class and be more 'ethical'! He argues:
Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs…. a financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”
Francis, rather than allying the Vatican with the real social agent of change, the working class, instead simply wants the capitalist class to ameliorate some of the worst excesses of capitalism.
You have probably read or heard similar nonsense before. Indeed Labour's David Cunliffe expounded such drivel earlier this year when he said in an interview:
Socialism's not a word that I use. I say social democracy because I don't think the government needs to own all the means of production. That's not our intention. But we will be there for ordinary New Zealanders, and we will make a change for the better in their lives. That we guarantee.
Similarly Britain's Ed Miliband said in 2012 that he wanted to create a 'responsible capitalism'.It would not be based on replacing capitalism with socialism but on a 'new set of values'.
The political position of Francis is little different from the illogical and contradictory position of social democrats like Cunliffe and Miliband. He wants to change the world but only if he doesn't have to change the world to do it.