The magisterium has given ‘socialism’ a defined meaning and condemned it. No Catholic can adhere to Socialism in that sense and to adopt the term on the grounds that one adheres to a generically similar but formally distinct doctrine is to give very serious scandal.

“[T]he socialists … are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy.” Rerum Novarum 4

“Socialists, therefore, by endeavouring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life.” Rerum Novarum 5

“The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home.” Rerum Novarum 14

“Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.” Rerum Novarum 15

The Church teaches that the goods of the earth are given to the entire human race to provide for their subsistence and security and that by our application of fruitful labour to some part of the earth we appropriate that portion of the earth to provide for our own subsistence and security and that of our dependents. This right of property includes essentially the right to alienate these goods by sale, gift or bequest. Once provision is made for our own subsistence and security and that of our dependents whatever remains should be employed whether gratuitously or in exchange for labour or goods to assist others in providing for their subsistence and security. Only if this last obligation is not fulfilled does the right of property lapse and do third parties (destitute individuals and families or the civil power acting on their behalf but without respect of persons)  become entitled to treat the additional goods in question as if they had not been appropriated. Socialism essentially consists in the claim that the initial appropriation is undertaken by the community as a whole and so the right of property is vested in the community not in individuals or families and is only enjoyed by individuals and families by a concession of the community that may be modified or revoked.

Fr Malak was taken  by a priest friend to meet a German priest whom he’d met. They went to the chapel first.

“Come on” whispered Fr Kentenich.

When we got to the porch, he said “Let’s go to the bathroom, it’s empty at this time of day – we won’t find a better place”.

We sit on chests standing next to the wall. The conversation unfolds. Fr Kentenich makes ever longer contributions, and they turn into a sort of lecture.


“Thus ended for the present, and most likely for ever, the attempts of the Slavonians of Germany to recover an independent national existence. Scattered remnants of numerous nations, whose nationality and political vitality had long been extinguished, and who in consequence had been obliged, for almost a thousand years, to follow in the wake of a mightier nation, their conqueror, the same as the Welsh in England, the Basques in Spain, the Bas-Bretons in France, and at a more recent period the Spanish and French Creoles in those portions of North America occupied of late by the Anglo-American race —these dying nationalities, the Bohemians, Carinthians, Dalmatians, etc., had tried to profit by the universal confusion of 1848, in order to restore their political status quo of A. D. 800. The history of a thousand years ought to have shown them that such a retrogression was impossible; that if all the territory east of the Elbe and Saale had at one time been occupied by kindred Slavonians, this fact merely proved the historical tendency, and at the same time physical and intellectual power of the German nation to subdue, absorb, and assimilate its ancient eastern neighbors; that this tendency of absorption on the part of the Germans had always been, and still was one of the mightiest means by which the civilization of Western Europe had been spread in the east of that continent; that it could only cease whenever the process of Germanization had reached the frontier of large, compact, unbroken nations, capable of an independent national life, such as the Hungarians, and in some degree the Poles: and that, therefore, the natural and inevitable fate of these dying nations was to allow this process of dissolution and absorption by their stronger neighbors to complete itself. Certainly this is no very flattering prospect for the national ambition of the Panslavistic dreamers who succeeded in agitating a portion of the Bohemian and South Slavonian people; but can they expect that history would retrograde a thousand years in order to please a few phthisical bodies of men, who in every part of the territory they occupy are interspersed with and surrounded by Germans, who from time almost immemorial have had for all purposes of civilization no other language but the German, and who lack the very first conditions of national existence, numbers and compactness of territory?”

– From ‘Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany

Here’s the article.


“The perfect and fitting development of each individual is not necessarily the utmost and highest cultivation of his own personality, but the filling, in the best possible way, of his humble function in the great social machine.” – Sydney Webb.

In a recent comment on Fr. Z’s blog James Macmillan (of greatest living British composer fame) asserted “I certainly have my roots [on the political left], but in recent years have moved so far from it, that is a travesty to describe me as a socialist. That is nobody’s fault but my own, though. But it continues to haunt me”. I know how he feels as I made a similar transition at a considerably earlier age. I do not believe that it haunts me, however. My family tradition is of Labour Party membership, but the more I look into the history of the party, which I have only begun to do, the more it seems that in its first decades Labour itself made Macmillan’s (or at least my) journey in reverse.
As I’ve mentioned before it was Tony Blair who turned the Labour Party into a Socialist party by changing Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution so that it began ‘The Labour Party is Democratic Socialist Party’. Of course, the reason he did this was not because he believed himself to be a Socialist but because he wished to empty the Clause of all positive meaning. The use of the word ‘Socialist’ was a meaningless concession designed to fob off opponents of his ‘modernisation’. Nevertheless, his administration of the Labour Party owed much to the Democratic Socialism of East Germany and Lenin’s ‘Democratic Centralism’.
The old Clause 4 did not require members of the Labour Party to be Socialists only that they seek to ‘secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry’ through some sort of ‘common ownership’ or ‘popular administration and control of each industry or service’. Certainly, the authors of the clause envisaged State ownership but it was designedly ambiguous because the founders and much of the membership of the Labour Party believed not in Socialism but in cooperative ownership. Keir Hardie himself (who was a Socialist) said of the new parliamentary group that thy were to be “neither socialists, Liberals, nor Tories, but a Labour party”. The favourite book of these first Labour MPs was Unto This Last by John Ruskin. They had far more in common with Leo XIII than either Tony Blair or Karl Marx. In this sense Blair is the true successor of the authors of the old Clause 4, a shallow middle class opportunist who hijacked a working class party for his own fashionable ideological purposes and political ambitions (rather like the liberals who ransacked the Churches after Vatican II).
Of course, by the time of the New Labour coup there was little distributism left in the Labour movement and Old Labour meant old Socialism. But there is an even more important sense in which many of the founders of the Labour movement were not Socialists while Blair is and the Webbs both were. When Pius XI wrote Quadragesimo Anno he was faced with the problem that many ‘Socialists’ had so far moderated their position that their practical proposals had much in common with the aims of Catholics schooled in the Church’s social teaching. Such Catholics were beginning to ask themselves whether if the word ‘Socialist’ now meant so little that they could assume the title themselves and make common cause with other opponents of economic injustice. Pius XI acknowledged that there was much to commend this view. Nevertheless, he insisted that the word ‘Socialist’ retained enough intelligible content for it to remain unacceptable and that the moderation of many of the users of that label stemmed more from their own intellectual inconsistency than a true ideological shift.
“If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” Quadragesimo Anno §120
Pius XI was right. There is a content to the word ‘socialism’ which allows it to be used of Blair and Brown and of Marx and the Webbs without equivocation and it is this: the belief that all property and liberty are vested by natural right not in the individual or the family but in the community as a whole as expressed in the state. This is the assumption behind inheritance tax, behind Gordon Brown’s desire to seize the organs of the dead for transplant without their consent, behind ID cards and detention without trial, it is the same assumption behind the state ownership of the means of production and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Brown and Blair do not reject these last two concepts because they think them intrinsically illegitimate but because they think they don’t work. Blair wasn’t joking when he called the Labour Party ‘the political wing of the British people’ he meant every last Bolshevik/National Socialist word and connotation of that chilling phrase.
None of this renders illegitimate those elements of Socialism which contain truth especially the critique of Capitalism that its adherents once offered. The reason George Weigel and the Bishop of Lublin’s aleged suppression Karol Wojtyła’s early book on Catholic Social Teaching and the obsession of so many ‘conservative’ Catholics with the ridiculous absolutist traditions of the French Monarchy drive me mad is that this sort of nonsense is so un-Catholic, so pagan. The French monarchy was an idiotic institution which must carry a good part of the responsibility for the nightmare that destroyed and succeeded it. It was the faithful ally of the Turk and the constant patron of the Gallican Heresy. The English constitution was based on the Constitutions of St Dominic and beloved of Thomists such as Sir John Fortescue it has provided liberty, stability and the rule of law far more effectively than French absolutism. The obscene attempts of Social and Political Modernists like Novak and Weigel to airbrush the Social Magisterium and canonise Capitalism red in tooth and claw as the Gospel are just a modern version of the same phenomenon. Bloody liberation theology is these people’s best friend. I haven’t read the Houston Catholic Worker often enough to know if it is completely sound but give me that any day rather than reheated Americanism. The Church condemns and abhors Socialism and Communism, it upholds the market and private property but it also condemns Usury and its deformed offspring ‘free market’ Capitalism. The Church too exhorts the laity to secure for the workers the full fruits of their industry. Pius XII expressed this beautifully in his 1942 Christmas Address which never fails to move me.

Always moved by religious motives, the Church has condemned the various forms of Marxist Socialism; and she condemns them today, because it is her permanent right and duty to safeguard men from currents as thought and influences that jeopardize their eternal salvation. But the Church cannot ignore or overlook the fact that the worker in his efforts to better his lot, is opposed by a machinery which is not only not in accordance with nature, but is at variance with God’s plan and with the purpose He had in creating the goods of earth.

In spite of the fact that the ways they followed were and are false and to be condemned, what man, and especially what priest or Christian, could remain deaf to the cries that rise from the depths and call for justice and a spirit of brotherly collaboration in a world ruled by a just God? Such silence would be culpable and unjustifiable before God, and contrary to the inspired teaching of the Apostle, who, while he inculcates the need of resolution in the fight against error, also knows that we must be full of sympathy for those who err, and open-minded in our understanding of their aspirations, hopes and motives.

When He blessed our first parents, God said: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” And to the first father of a family, He said later: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” The dignity of the human person, then, requires normally as a natural foundation of life the right to the use of the goods of the earth. To this right corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant private ownership of property, if possible, to all. Positive legislation regulating private ownership may change and more or less restrict its use. But if legislation is to play its part in the pacification of the community, it must prevent the worker, who is or will be a father of a family, from being condemned to an economic dependence and slavery which is irreconcilable with his rights as a person. Whether this slavery arises from the exploitation of private capital or from the power of the state, the result is the same. Indeed, under the pressure of a State which dominates all and controls the whole field of public and private life, even going into the realm of ideas and beliefs and of conscience, this lack of liberty can have the more serious consequences, as experience shows and proves.