Vatican's Role in the Class Struggle

By the Communist Party of New Zealand

Business Roundtable chairman Doug Myers says Pope John Paul II would "in all probability" approve of the Employment Contracts Act, citing as evidence reviews of the latest papal encyclical Centesimus Annus.

However, the Business Roundtable chairman' s interpretation of this encyclical has been challenged by John Egan, a catholic official in Wellington.

Centesimus Annus marked the centenary of Pope Leo XlII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum which laid down the political line of the Catholic Church as the forces of capital and labour collided in sharper class struggles.

John Paul said the earlier encyclical recognised that a new society -- capitalism -- had arisen with "new structures for the production of consumer goods".

Under capitalism, a "new form of property had appeared -- capital" and a "new form of labour -- labour for wages".

Leo's encyclical came just two decades after the 1871 Paris Commune. This two-month revolt against the rule of big business was the first-ever attempt to establish working class state power. Although it failed, the Paris Commune electrified the international labour movement, and made workers in all countries realise they belonged to a common class of wage slaves which knew no national boundaries in the global struggle against the exploitation of capital.

Leo's encyclical was a response to the formation of Marxist parties in Europe and North America, the growing strength of trade unionism in all industrialised countries and the birth of May Day as international workers day. The toilers of the world were flexing their collective muscles and socialist ideas were taking root in the international working class.

Two Classes

Pope Leo saw that society had become "divided into two classes, separated by a deep chasm". As John Paul noted a century later: "When people finally began to realise fully the very grave injustice of social realities in many places and the danger of a revolution fanned by ideals which were then called 'socialist', Pope Leo XIII intervened with a document which dealt in a systematic way with the condition of workers."

Pope Leo and the Catholic Church were "confronted by a society which was torn by a conflict all the more harsh and inhumane because it knew no rule or regulation," said John Paul. "It was a conflict between capital and labour, or -- as the encyclical puts it -- the worker question."

"The pope's intention was certainly to restore peace, and the present-day reader cannot fail to note his severe condemnation, in no uncertain terms, of the class struggle," John Paul stated.

"However, the pope was very much aware that peace is built on the foundation of justice," John Paul continued. "What was essential to the encyclical was precisely its proclamations of the fundamental conditions for justice in the economic and social situation of the time."

Leo recognised the "natural human right" of workers and employers to form associations, John Paul said, "certainly not because of ideological prejudices or in order to surrender to a class mentality, but because the right of association is a natural right of the human being".

Leo acknowledged the right to the "limitation of working hours," and said that "it is neither just nor human to so grind men down with excessive labour as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies". He also declared the right to a "just wage". However, the global competition between rival monopolists grouped in rival imperialist blocs leads to the deterioration of working class living standards. Each monopolist must step up the exploitation of his workforce or be crushed by his competitors. The inevitable results can be seen in New Zealand today, where the Employment Contracts Act has been passed so that big business can slash wages, jobs, conditions and union rights.

By vaguely abstract talk about non-class themes like "justice" and "human rights", both Leo and John Paul divert attention away from the realities of our class-divided society.

Regardless of who they are or what they do, everybody is conditioned by the exploitation of labour by capital which is central to the powerful economic laws that govern capitalism.

Marxists Slammed

Leo strongly upheld the right to private ownership of the means of production in opposition to socialist ideas, but said the capitalist state could not limit itself to "favouring one portion of the citizens" at the expense of the rest.

"The richer class has many ways of shielding itself, and stands in less need of help from the state, whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back on, and must chiefly depend on the assistance of the state," Leo declared.

"It is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong to the latter class, should be specifically cared for and protected by the government."

Pope Leo criticised socialists who "encourage the poor man's envy of the rich". He slammed all Marxists as being "emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the state and create utter confusion in the community".

Backing up Leo in his 1991 encyclical, John Paul noted that "the evils caused by the setting up of this type of socialism as a state system... could not be better expressed".

Both Leo and John Paul utterly condemn the class struggle when it takes the form of a conscious struggle by the working class to throw off the chains of capitalist exploitation. John Paul said that the class struggle must abstain from "enmities and mutual hatred" so that it "changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice".

"What is condemned in class struggle," said John Paul, is "the idea that conflict is not restrained by ethical or juridical considerations". In other words, the pope is condemning all workers who take the class struggle beyond the boundaries prescribed by capitalist law passed by capitalist governments to intensify the exploitation of labour by capital.

In particular, the pope is warning about the "evil" influence of Marxism which makes the working class conscious of its socially necessary role to overthrow the rule of big business and place the means of production under public ownership protected by the rule of the working class.

This socialist revolution is vital in the transition towards a classless (communist) society of great material abundance, where labour is performed by each citizen according to ability, and each is rewarded according to need. Naturally, such a classless society is impossible under capitalism, where a minority of parasitical exploiters receive the full backing of the capitalist state in their selfish monopolisation of the fruits of social labour.

Therefore, the stated desire of both popes to get rid of social "conflict" and restore social "peace" is contradicted by their hostility to the Marxist theory of socialist revolution, which promises the only path towards a society at peace with itself -- a society not torn by class conflicts because classes will no longer exist after a period of working class rule has transformed all citizens into co-operative producers of social wealth.

In effect, all that the pope offers is a continuation of our class-divided society. The class struggle is the only way to overthrow the tyranny of private property and place the means of production under public ownership, so that the fruits of social labour meet the needs of all citizens instead of being siphoned off into the pockets of a wealthy elite. Therefore, papal denunciations of the class struggle help to protect the heartless rule of big business.

Imperialist War

John Paul's encyclical states: "May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes, and war in international ones."

Here the pope is inferring that "violence" is the cause of war. This is like saying that war is the cause of war.

The pope is engaged in an absurd refusal to admit that war is the continuation of politics by other means.

The politics of capitalism are based on economic competition between rival monopolists to make the biggest profits from the most intense exploitation of labour. This leads to rival blocs of monopolists using their economic, political and military muscle to re-divide the world into imperialist spheres of influence according to their relative strengths at the time.

So periodic wars between imperialist powers are just as much an inevitable outcome of capitalism as is the continual exploitation of labour by capital. The only way to abolish war is to abolish capitalism on a global scale -- but this socialist objective has been made the target of a "holy war" by the Vatican.


In his encyclical, John Paul upheld the "legitimate role of profit," claiming that exploitation "in the forms analysed and described by Karl Marx has been overcome in Western society".

But the pope's claim is completely untrue. The capitalist exploitation exposed by Marx is still the economic motivation for all employers today.

Capitalist profit stems from the unpaid labour time of workers who are the source of new values (surplus value) far in excess of what they receive in the form of wages and salaries. This legal takeover of the fruits of common (social) production by the private owners of capital is the essence of capitalist exploitation.

In his encyclical, John Paul says the church "recognises the positive value of the market and of enterprise", but "at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good".

However, it is totally contradictory for John Paul to claim that capitalism can work for the "common good" when every day a tiny elite monopolises the fruits of common production.

But the pope steadfastly refuses to admit this glaring contradiction in his pro-capitalist theory. Instead, his encyclical merely cautions against the "risk" that "radical capitalistic ideology" could "blindly" thrust society along the track of "free development of market forces".

By this insistence that "ideology" -- not the operation of blind economic laws -- ultimately determines the direction of capitalism, the pope is taking an idealist stance. This ties in with the idealist notion that human behaviour flows from mankind's relationship with a mystical deity -- a "god".

In opposition to idealism, Marxists take the materialist stance that human behaviour is the product of the struggle for existence in our actual social and physical environment, which is particularly conditioned by the different relationship that different classes (wage slaves, middle class "managers" and monopoly exploiters) have to the means of production.

This is why big businessmen like Doug Myers look upon concepts such as "justice" in a totally different way than do members of the working class. To the Business Roundtable, "justice" means maximum profits and minimum wages, while this is rejected by the working class as a crying injustice. Despite some members of these two antagonistic classes pledging allegiance to the one god, they have two opposing definitions of "justice".

Different Tactics

After this analysis of the Vatican's views, does it look as if Doug Myers has read and understood the encyclical Centesimus Annus?

On the weight of evidence, it seems Myers was wrong in his argument.

The Roundtable chairman inferred that the encyclical endorsed capitalism's thrust towards a completely "free market" -- which are capitalist code-words meaning unfettered monopoly domination of a working class suffering declining living standards, social welfare cuts and restriction of political rights.

However, the whole direction of John Paul's encyclical was to defend capitalism by a call for "justice", where the state intervened to "protect" the worst-off people in society.

So while both Myers and John Paul are committed defenders of capitalism, their tactics differ, with the pope broadcasting a social democratic message and the Roundtable chairman advocating an openly right-wing line.

The present pope's ideas are based on Pope Leo's recognition that the "very grave injustice" of capitalism was giving rise to the "danger of a revolution". John Paul wants the state to limit some of the worst abuses of capitalism in order to stop the exploited majority from taking the path of class struggle against their big business oppressors -- which leads towards socialist revolution.

The papal encyclicals ignore the economic laws of capitalism which blindly operate regardless of the wishes of individuals, parties or classes, and impel big business to step up the rate of labour exploitation in order to compete with commercial rivals on the global market-place.

And the papal encyclicals also ignore the role of the state as a weapon in the hands of big business to impose its will on the exploited majority of society. Since the dawn of history, every state has served the economically dominant class which owned the means of production. Today, this is reflected in the way so many people are complaining that Business Roundtable sets the government agenda regardless of which party sits on the Treasury benches.

Meeting the pressing needs of big business impelled National to pass the wage-cutting Employment Contracts Act, and is fueling Labour's plan to impose a wage-cutting "accord" on the union movement if it wins the net election.


While John Paul's encyclical is littered with idealist concepts like "justice", not a mention is made of the Vatican's material position as one of the most wealthy and powerful corporate bodies in the world. To ensure the maximum return on these billion dollar investments, the Vatican obeys the same economic laws that drive big business to attack the working class.

A decade ago, the lid was lifted off part of the Vatican's corporate empire in the wake of a $2.5 billion dollar scam involving the Institute for Religious Works, commonly known as the Vatican Bank. Implicated was Italian financial magnate Roberto Calvi, known as "god's banker" because of his close ties to the Vatican Bank. After the fraud was uncovered, Calvi fled to England, where his body was found suspended by a rope from a bridge over the Thames River. It was never established if he was murdered or committed suicide.

At the centre of the scandal was American-born Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, president of the Vatican Bank. The archbishop had signed "letters of patronage" for the dozen Panamanian ghost companies which were Calvi's conduits for the billions that "disappeared" from Italian banks.

Publicity surrounding the scandal blew away some of the web of secrecy surrounding the operations of the Vatican's corporate empire. It was revealed that in the 1960's the Vatican Bank made investments that ran counter to the official church line, such as the funds ploughed into an Italian armaments factory and a Canadian pharmaceutical company that made contraceptives.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI ordered the liquidation of such investments, and a lot of the Vatican cash was then channelled into Michele Sindona's financial empire. When this empire collapsed in 1974 with the failure of New York's Franklin National Bank, the Vatican lost an estimated $120 million.

Sindona was sent to an American jail for 25 years because of his fraudulent "commissions". According to Giorgio Ambrosoli, the court appointed liquidator of the Sindona empire, Sindona paid a $10 million commission to "an American bishop and a Milanese banker" for unknown services. Official Italian sources confirmed that Ambrosoli was referring to Marcinkus and Calvi.

In 1979, shortly after talking to American authorities about the commission deal, Ambrosoli was shot to death by Mafia hitmen.

Several years later came the discovery of the Calvi fraud. This led to Pope John Paul declaring in 1981 that he wanted to make the Vatican's financial affairs "clear and in the light of the sun". In actual fact, to this day they still remain shrouded in clouds of top-level secrecy. No financial statements are published by the Vatican hierarchy.

Vatican Empire

However, it has become public knowledge that the Vatican is one of the most important financial powers in Italy, controlling at least a dozen large financial institutions and hundreds of smaller ones.

The Vatican has extensive interests in thousands of Italian companies, many of them huge monopolies like Alfa Romeo (cars), Firmeccania (engineering) and Finmare (shipping).

The Vatican Bank has immense investments in most major sectors of the Italian economy, including finance, electricity, gas, cement, steel, textiles, agriculture and communications. It is the biggest player in the government-run Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, which is the single largest investor in the Italian economy.

The Vatican also has investments in imperialist powers like America, Britain and France valued at many billions of dollars each.

And all this is just part of a global empire built on the exploitation of millions of workers. Despite not being listed on any stock exchange, the Vatican's vast economic power is closely interwoven with its spiritual-cum-political power.

This is the material basis for the church hierarchy's readiness to go to extreme lengths to defend capitalism -- such as the Vatican's alliance with Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy between 1922-43.

Fascist Alliance

In 1929, Pope Pius XI signed an official "understanding" (called the concordat) with Mussolini. The pope remarked that the fascist dictator was "that man whom Divine Providence" had allowed him to meet. Later, all the cardinals declared in an address to the pope that Mussolini was an "eminent statesman" who ruled Italy "by a decree of the Divine Providence". (The Catholic Church Against the 20th Century, by Avro Manhattan.)

Pius died in 1939, but the Vatican's alliance with Mussolini's fascist regime continued. In 1941 the next pope, who took the name Pius XII, blessed the "heroism" of the fascist soldiers invading Greece "who sacrifice their lives to follow the duties imposed upon them by the Christian conscience". (The Vatican and Fascism, by G. Salvemini.)

To this day, the Vatican has never apologised for this enduring papal alliance with a fascist dictator responsible for murdering untold thousands of Italian workers and consigning the rest to a living hell, while raping the peoples of other countries. After all, if the Vatican were to apologise for the actions of its popes, it would instantly explode the myth of papal infallibility.

This shows how the papal encyclicals denouncing the class struggle are totally one-sided, to say the least. The Vatican instructs workers not to take up the class struggle against capitalism, but the Vatican can forge an alliance with a fascist dictator like Mussolini who hammered the workers with police state terror -- a most extreme form of the class struggle -- to protect the profits and power of big business.

Internal Conflicts

Papal denunciations of the class struggle not only seek to dampen down the antagonistic conflict between capital and labour.

They are also aimed at papering over class-based conflicts inside the Catholic Church itself.

Among the lower ranks of the church are people who share the sufferings of the exploited majority and so live a completely different life from the Vatican hierarchy. Many of these catholic activists become sympathetic to the working class struggle against the oppressive power of big business. This has given rise to a class-based religious doctrine called "liberation theology".

To some extent, the Vatican consciously makes use of these close ties between grass roots catholic activists and the exploited majority in order to spread the church's influence amongst the working class. However, the Vatican hierarchy is fully aware of the very real possibility that the lessons of the class struggle will turn these catholic activists into committed opponents of capitalism who take up the struggle for socialism.

This is why John Paul's encyclical blesses the "struggle for social justice" while blasting the "evil" class struggle that alone can free the working class from capitalist exploitation.

Like the New Zealand social democrats leading the Labour and NewLabour parties, the Vatican hierarchy promotes the false dream of attaining "justice" for the working class within capitalism. Supposedly, the lion(big business) will come to see the error of his ways and meekly lie down with the lamb (working class) -- or so the pope would have us all believe.

Class Struggle

In sharp contrast, the Communist Party (CP) supports all working class struggles against the crying injustices of capitalism.

The CP is with the exploited majority as they defend their wages, jobs, union organisation, housing, health care, education, social welfare, political rights, etc from the mounting attacks of big business and the capitalist state.

In the course of these ceaseless struggles, the CP is helping create a united front of labour with the organised strength to turn the tables on big business and the socialist consciousness to move towards working class rule.

The CP gladly works alongside catholic activists who, on any particular issue, take a practical stand on the side of the working class. No sectarian barriers should divide the honest opponents of big business.

Therefore, the CP welcomed the criticism of the Employment Contracts Bill made last year by the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, since it contributed towards building a huge groundswell of opposition to this anti-worker law.

Likewise, the Workers Voice welcomes the criticism of the Business Roundtable's defence of the Employment Contracts Act made recently by John Egan of the NZ Catholic Commission for Justice, Peace & Development.

It seems that Egan is correct when he points out differences in the approach of the pope and the Roundtable chairman to industrial relations.

However, the Workers Voice would be failing in its working class duty if we didn't reveal that these differences only amount to tactical disagreements over how best to crush the working class struggle against big business and defend capitalism.

And defending capitalism means defending the daily exploitation of the working class by a wealthy elite interested only in promoting its own narrow class interests to the detriment of the public good.

In a case of "do what I say (in the papal encyclicals), not what I do," the Vatican is playing an active role in the class struggle -- on the side of big business.


The Vatican Bank

The Institute for Religious Works, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, controls billions of dollars worth of investments.

Its origins can be traced back to 1929 when Benito Mussolini's fascist government paid $150 million to the Vatican as compensation for the loss of papal territory seized from the church in 1870 by the Italian republic. This was a huge sum at that time.

Much of this money was invested in big Italian companies that were prospering under the slave labour regime installed by the Italian fascists.

As the Vatican's assets began to rapidly grow, Francis Spellman, an American bishop then living in Rome, urged Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state who later became Pope Pius XII, to create the financial machinery to manage the funds in the most profitable manner.

After Pacelli became pope he set up the Vatican Bank. Established in 1942, the bank's first job was to shield vatican money from the tremours of war then shaking Italy.

The Vatcan Bank now operates much like any other financial institution. It takes in deposits (largely from the catholic faithful) and invests its portfolio in the most profitable areas.

Only the pope and a couple of top bank officers know precise details of its operations. Even strategically-placed cardinals aren't given anything more than the most scanty information about the Vatican Bank.

This secrecy is one of the main reasons why few people know that the papacy directs one of the world's major financial corporations. Pope John Paul II doesn't have to pray for divine intervention to operate the levers of economic power -- he merely has to give instructions to his officials in the Vatican Bank.


Stand Up For Your Rights

The Baptist Tabernacle in Auckland displays this huge sign outside: "Instead of standing up for your rights, try kneeling down for your wrongs."

This message of meekness to working class people victimised by capitalism is the very reason why the Roman emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official state religion in 320. At that time, the Roman empire was threatened by massive slave revolts which military force alone was unable to quell. The state needewd reinforcements in the shape of a popular religion that commanded the "sinful" slaves to fall on their knees and pray to a god for rewards in the "next life".

Essentially, Christianity is performing the same service for capitalism today. For instance, the recent papal encyclical Centesimus Annus denounces the class struggle in the strongest terms, while the marxist concept of socialist revolution is declared to be "evil".

But capitalism will fall just as inevitably as the Roman empire fell, despite being reinforced by the state religion of Christianity. In historical terms, the death of capitalism is getting very close, since private ownership of the means of production is holding back the forces of social production, which can only find full expression after a socialist revolution paves the way to a classless society.

Every time another section of capitalism's victims stand up for their rights, the day of reckoning for capitalism draws nearer.

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