[Marxism] Church and revolution (was re: Frei Betto...)

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Mon Aug 21 13:49:38 MDT 2006

A few days ago, Nestor made several points to Sayan in one of his notes on
the subject of religion and revolution (I forgot which post, and I can't
seem to track it down). I responded privately, and he
suggested I translate the ensuing discussion for the list...

I agree with most of what you wrote [dealing with Catholic transcendance
as a route to revolutionary participation], which I believe was the point
of the Omar Cabezas and Sergio Ramirez quotes. However, I don't agree with
this statement:

Nestor (from response to Sayan):
> "In this sense, Catholicism, which is much more a structured and
hyerarchical creed than Islamism (to the degree that it even has a
"temporal", that is Earthly, state of its own in the Vatican City), gives
us a lesson:  the "heretic" monks and friars who are trying  to
> bend the stick of the Church towards "temporalities" and social
> revolution have not been subject to anathema.  On the contrary, the old
and wise Vatican State has seen the death of two modes of
> production (Mediterranean slavery and European feudalism), and it
> also seen the birth of two (European feudalism and European
> capitalism).  By keeping these radicals in the fold they may well
> preparing themselves for the future, too."

Every single one of the revolutionary clerics in Nicaragua were either
forced by the Vatican to leave the country or abandon their religious
duties [or renounce their evangel) under the threat of excommunication.
The Catholic church hierarchy did everything it could to smash the
"popular church" in Nicaragua. From the moment of the Revolutionary
triumph, a crisis and rupture were brewing between the church hierarchy
and the "popular church." The rupture occurred when the Pope arrived in
Nicaragua, and the scene remains fixed in my mind. I was present reporting
for Barricada when his Emminence rejected the appeals from mothers of
young people who had been murdered shortly before by the contras, to pray
for their sons. When the
discomfited crowd in the Plaza began chanting for the Pope to pray for the
victims, the Pope's ONLY response was to admonish the crowd in a
stentorian voice, "Silence! Silence!" Afterward, I interviewed attendees.
Perhaps, the most cogent explanation was provided by a tailor: "The Pope's
response didn't surprise me, defending the imperialist aggression," he
said. "After all, Rome is also an empire!"

Yes, but look at what's happening right now in Bolivia. While it's allowed
to teach religion in the schools, the Vatican gives its support to Evo
Morales, exactly now, when the entire reaction is has launched a furious
assault against Andres Soliz Rada and the nationalization of hydrocarbons.

Don't ever forget that the Church has a fine sense of the historic moment,
the meaning of acts and details. I insist: All theory is grey.

The situation between the Pope and Nicaragua had much more to do with the
East-West confrontation than with the Church itself and the struggle
between religion and Marxism. In Argentina, when he shilled for "peace"
(meaning, in fact, defeat), while the military government (ultra-Catholic,
of the extreme right-wing) still insisted on continuing to fight, the
mixture of the secular and the divine became apparent: he opposed the very
Catholic governors in order to better guarantee the triumph of the
Anglo-Saxon protestants.

But, what I am saying is that this will not be eternal. The Church knows
(or believes it knows) that only God is eternal. And I repeat: it saw the
birth of two modes of production and witnessed the death of others. I
don't believe it will accompany capitalism beyond the mouth of the grave.
And then, like any village priest, it will return and try to conduct its

Seems to me that, in that last piece, you conceive of the C.C. as some
sort of supra-class institution. I think you may be conflating abstract
and concrete categories somewhat ahistorically. Marx never said that when
passing from one historic epoch to another, institutions simply cease to
exist, with new ones born of whole cloth. On the contrary, they are
subsumed by the new order, infused with the new social relations, new
content: transformed. It's the old wineskin, which now contains your "Cuba
Libre." This Catholic Church is very much a bourgeois institution, with
some feudal trappings (being men of the cloth... ahem!). The tailor I
interviewed was correct. *A* Catholic Church, or something by that name,
may very well make the transition (on a global scale), but it won't be
this one, which is permeated and built on bourgeois -- and rigidly
hierarchic, oppressive -- social relations.

The Church, as an institution -- and an institution of the dominant class
-- concretely IN this society wages class war on the oppressed (as both of
our examples showed). But, the church, as other dominant institutions,
such as the army and the schools, also reflects the class struggle within
it. It is because it's body encompasses classes (yes, and nations in
Lenin's sense) in conflict, each of which can accept its doctrines and can
*find in them support for each of their worldviews*, that something of it
may well carry on during the construction of socialism and beyond... in
the same sense, perhaps, that the Red Army or the Sandinista Army carried
on from their predecessors!

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