The relation of Capitalism and Communism with the Church

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Despite the fact that the different characteristics of the two ideologies were analysed in a previous article, there wasn’t any reference on their connection with the Church. The relation between the two systems and the Church is another significant factor that should be examined when analyzing the strong contradiction of the two ideologies.

There are many different approaches when it comes to this particular topic and the origin of Communism and Capitalism. On the one hand, capitalism is a system that many believed had its roots on Christianity and it was originated in Protestantic cities. On the other hand, we have the communist hostility towards the Church which was advocated by Marx and applied in the first communist state by Lenin. In this section, it’s important to understand the role that especially the Catholic Church played, in the difference between the two systems and their higher tensions.

Regarding capitalism, christianism played the most dominant part in forming the new system. More specifically, it was the breach of Protestantism that played this huge role at the end of the 17th century. As it’s widely known, the Dutch Republic around the end of the 17th century was considered the first capitalist state of the modern times. At this period, the country was under strong influence of Calvinism, a major breach of Protestantism that advocates the domination of God and his control over people’s lives, either towards salvation or towards loss. The Calvinist ethic led to a type of ‘capitalistic growth’, since its supporters had a tendency of hard work and dedication, aiming at profit-maximization and sobriety.

It’s rather impressive to understand that even main values of Protestantism were defined by the rise of the new system. Protestants, despite their hard work, were also working for the establishment of a more authentic and less money-oriented society. This also changed after the elimination of the Church’s hierarchical mediation and the establishment of an environment that permitted the development of a capitalist economy. Max Weber’s book entitled “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, written in 1905, was the work which indirectly claimed that Protestantism and mostly Calvinism influenced the development of capitalism and industrialization in the Netherlands, in England and in North America.

The Catholic Church had an indirect impact in establishing the environment for economic growth and accepting the role of capitalism over socialism. In Europe, the Catholic church had provided freedom of enterprise, competitive markets and humane conditions for workers, while it owned nearly a third of the land in the ‘old continent’. In the Roman context, the role of the church was also of utmost importance and contributed in establishing a legislation for growth based on commerce and money. However, the problem with the Catholic church was the burden that it imposed upon individual economic activity in Southern European countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal which was an obstacle for the capitalist development, at a time of growth and expansion for the Anglo-Saxon Protestants. That’s the reason why the capitalist ‘spirit’ was more considered to be originated by the Christian approach and the supporters of this ideology.

The role that the Catholic church played was more anti-socialistic rather than pro-capitalist. The first Catholic objection to this Marxist system begins with Pope Leo XIII and his work entitled “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor” (Rerum novarum), published in 1891. At this point, the rise of Socialist parties had already occurred and the head of the Catholic church realised that it was about time that the church explained its position and the word of God towards the two systems. There wasn’t economic theory in his writing and that’s because the church would not provide any new theory but would evaluate the moral progress and ethical boundaries of the already existing ones. In this encyclical, circular letter to all churches, the Pope addresses the rights of the working class, supports the formation of labour units and welcomes the acquisition of private property. It is the first piece by the Catholic church that ‘accepts’ capitalism and rejects socialism. According to the Pope, socialism is a system that “is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity”, meaning that Marx proposed a system that doesn’t comply with the position of both churches. It’s important to understand that the Pope is concerned about the treatment of the workers, saying that “the misery and wretchedness is pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.”

In Marx’s manifesto and writings, socialism and communism seem to be anti-church systems and in the leftist systems there seemed to be an antagonism between religion and government’s ideology. According to Marx, who had a clearly atheistic perspective, religion is “opium for the people” and is strongly connected to capitalist supremacy and the principles of private ownership and trade. Marxists from all over the world used this perspective to include their own thoughts about religion and Socialism. Lenin, in his 10-page piece entitled “Socialism and Religion” and published in November 1905, wrote that the church in accordance to capitalism gives inexistent hope of rewards to the slaves of this system (the proletariat) since, according to him, “The impotence of the exploited classes in struggle with the exploiters Inevitably gives birth to faith in a better life beyond the grave”. In other words, he considers religion as a tool of the bourgeoisie to defend the exploitation of the workers and “hypnotize” the working class.

It’s only right that the two contradicting ideologies had different approaches to religion, either christianism or catholicism. Regarding capitalism, the environment in which this system was ‘born’, it’s considered to be built by the means provided by the Catholic church. However, the main influence was applied by Christianity and more specifically the Protestants, whose work ethic started being accompanied by profit and division of classes. In terms of socialism, Marx advocated an anti-religion policy, a view which would be reinforced by Lenin, supporting that it gave hope to the workers for a reward after death, keeping them enslaved in this system. The views of the church were also hostile towards communism, since it didn’t comply with the position of both religions.

References

Barbieri G (2013) Decline and economic ideals in Italy in the early modern age. Leo S. Olschki Editore, Florence

Staff, Crosswalk.com Editorial. “What Is Calvinism? — Understanding the History and Denominational Doctrine.” Christianity.com, Salem Web Network, 14 Nov. 2013, bit.ly/2ZIRDyP.

“Church and Communism.” CQ Researcher by CQ Press, library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1949081900.

Horn, Trent. “Can a Catholic Be a Capitalist?” Catholic Answers, Catholic Answers, 18 Feb. 2020, www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/can-a-catholic-be-a-capitalist.

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An 18-year old future Political Science student, fascinated by the world of Global Politics, International Economics and Human Development.

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