From Socialist Voice, April 2005

Did the Pope defeat socialism?

In early April the head of the Catholic Church, Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, died after twenty-six years at the head of his church. The mass media, both nationally and globally, have used the opportunity to once again launch massive attacks against socialism and to reinforce the political view that there is no alternative to capitalism.
     Let us be clear. The Pope did not defeat socialism. The Catholic Church in Poland and Polish history have certain similarities to our own. It is clear that in the eyes of many Poles, Polishness and Catholicism are one and the same.
     Many mistakes were made in relation to the treatment of religion throughout eastern Europe. It is also clear that, just as in Ireland, the Church was an economic power in its own right. It was a massive landowner; its political and economic interests coincided with those of the feudal landlords and the national bourgeoisie throughout eastern Europe.
     The inability of socialist forces to win any significant influence within these elements of society was an important weakness on their part. The fact that in Poland the land question was never really solved in a way that won the peasant away from individual working methods and ownership to a more socially advanced form of food production allowed the Church a power base on which to build its opposition.
     The dominant elements within many of the Communist Parties saw any criticism as hostile, as forces that needed to be suppressed. Without a doubt the Catholic Church was led by very reactionary elements, such as Cardinal Stepinac in Yugoslavia and Cardinal Mindszenty in Hungary, who had strong links with imperialism. But the art and science of politics is to unite your friends and divide your enemies.
     The Pope was a man with many contradictions. He kissed the ground, and walked on women; he condemned liberation theologists and demanded absolute doctrinal obedience while condemning socialist countries for stifling debate and free thought. He condemned poverty and consumer opulence yet condemned the use of condoms as a means of preventing the spread of AIDS. He condemned capitalism in muted terms but had no alternative except appealing for the elites to think of the poor and be generous; he had little or nothing to say about the private ownership of wealth being the reason why we have millions of people dying from hunger. He spoke of the hurt that socialism had caused but hid paedophiles and corrupt banking practices by his own bankers.
     Yet we would have to recognise that he took a strong and courageous stand against the war in Iraq, and was politically opposed to the “war on terrorism.” He took a progressive position on the Palestinian struggle while at the same time attempting to undo the centuries-old hidden anti-Semitism within his church. He even managed to forgive poor old Galileo after 350 years.
     He was a man of many contradictions, leading a church with greater contradictions.
     The mass of the people cannot afford to wait for a better afterlife: they want, need and demand a better life now. The more that conformity is demanded, the more its contradictions intensify.
     Religion is not the problem: capitalism and imperialism are. We who believe in social change and an end to capitalism share much with those religious people who wish to apply their views to their everyday experience. If they want to build heaven on earth, we will walk that road with them. No Pope and no church can stop the desire for a better life.

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