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Interview :: War and Militarism
Capitalism and War: Pope Francis
22 Jul 2014
Pope Francis was interviewed by the La Vanguardia newspaper. In the dialogue, Francis spoke about the state of reforms in the Vatican, Benedict's retirement and prayer for peace on Pentecost.

Interview with Pope Francis

[This interview “Ich bin kein Erleuchtener” published on June 13, 2014 is translated from the German on the Internet, Pope Francis was interviewed by the “la Vanguardia” newspaper from Catalonia. In the dialogue, Francis spoke about the state of reforms in the Vatican, Benedict’s retirement and prayer for peace on Pentecost.]

Question: Violence in God’s name marks the Middle East.

Pope Francis: That is a contradiction. Violence in God’s name does not match our time. That is something old. From an historical perspective, we Christians practiced that from time to time. That must be admitted. The Thirty-Year War was violence in God’s name. Today, that is hardly imaginable, right? Sometimes we fall into very momentous contradictions for religious reasons. Fundamentalism is an example. We three religions have our fundamentalist groups that are small in relation to the rest.

Persecuted Christians are a concern that touches my heart as a shepherd. I know a great deal about persecutions but out of caution do not speak about this to not put anyone’s nose out of joint. Still there are places where owning a Bible, teaching the catechism or wearing a cross are prohibited.

Question: What do you think about fundamentalism?

Pope Francis: A fundamentalist group is violent even when it does not kill or strike anyone. The mental structure of fundamentalism is violence in God’s name.

Question: Some see you as a revolutionary…

Pope Francis: For me the great revolution consists in going to the roots, recognizing them and seeing what these roots have to say to us. There is no contradiction between revolutionary and going to the roots. Rather the lever for bringing about real changes is identity. One can never advance a step in life if one does not backfire, if one does not know where he/she comes from or what cultural and religious name he/she has.

Question: You have often broken the protocol to be near people.

Pope Francis: I know something can happen but that is in God’s hands… Let us be realistic. At my age, I don’t have much to lose.

Question: Why is it so important that the church is poor and humble?

Pope Francis: Poverty and humility are at the heart of the gospel. I say that in a theological sense, not in a sociological sense. The gospel cannot be understood without poverty but poverty must be distinguished from pauperism.

Question: What can the church do to reduce the growing inequality between rich and poor?

Pope Francis: We could feed the hungry with the food that is left. When you see malnourished children in different parts of the world, you throw your hands up in the air. I believe we are in a world economic system that isn’t good… We are bewitched in the idolatry of money. We are throwing away a whole generation to maintain an economic system that cannot last. This system needs to create wars to survive as grand empires have always done. Regional wars are now created because we cannot have a third world war. What does that mean? Weapons are produced and sold and the balances of the great world economies are revitalized.

Question: Are you worried about the conflict between Catalonia and Spain?

Pope Francis: Every division makes me anxious. There is independence for emancipation and independence for secession. Independence for emancipation is American; they emancipate themselves from the European states. Independence of people for secession is a splintering… Think of former Yugoslavia. There are countries with cultures so diverse that even glue could not hold them together.

The Yugoslavian case is very clear. I ask myself whether it is as clear with other people who were united up to now. This must be studied case by case: Scotland, Padania (area in northern Italy) and Catalonia. There will be just cases and cases that are not just but the secession of a nation without a history of forced unity must be handled with care and analyzed case by case.

Question: The prayers for peace in the Vatican were not easy to organize because there was no precedent. How did you feel about that?

Pope Francis: I felt this was something that goes beyond all of us. Here in the Vatican 99 percent said this would not go off well and that this one percent grows more and more. We saw ourselves forced in a matter that we did not understand and that took form gradually. It was a religious act from the beginning, opening a window to the world, and not a political act.

Question: Why did you decide to travel into the eye of the typhoon, the Middle East?

Pope Francis: The real eye of the typhoon was the World Youth Day in Rio in 2013 – on account of the enthusiasm that was there! The resolution to journey to the Holy Land came about because President Peres invited me. I knew his mandate expired this spring. His invitation accelerated the travel.

Question: You say a Jew is planted in every Christian.

Pope Francis: It would be more correct to say one cannot really live one’s Christianity if one does not recognize one’s Jewish roots. I speak of Judaism in the religious sense. In my opinion, the inter-religious dialogue must tackle this, the Jewish root of Christianity and the Christian flowering time out of Judaism. That is a challenge, a hot potato, but as brothers we can do that.

Question: How do you judge anti-Semitism?

Pope Francis: I cannot explain how anti-Semitism comes about but I believe in general it is closely connected with the right-wing. Anti-Semitism gains a foothold in right-wing circles much more than in the left. Isn’t that true? We even have people who deny the holocaust. What madness!

Question: One of your projects is to open the Vatican archive on the holocaust.

Pope Francis: Much light could be brought into that subject.

Question: Are you worried about what could be discovered?

Pope Francis: What makes me anxious in this theme is the figure of Pius XII. Poor Pius XII was criticized for everything possible. One must remember he was earlier regarded as the great defender of the Jews. He hid many in monasteries of Rome and other Italian cities and in the Castel Gandolfo summer residence. There in the room of the pope, in his own bed, 42 babies were born, children of Jews or other victims of persecution who escaped there. I do not say Pius XII committed no errors – I have also committed many – but his role must be read in the context of the epoch. For example, was it better that he was silent or that he was not silent to prevent even more Jews from being killed? Sometimes I am a little annoyed when everyone speaks against the church and Pius XII and entirely forgets the super-powers. Do you know the super-powers knew the railroad network of the Nazis on which Jews were brought to the concentration camps? They had photos of that! But they did not drop bombs on the rails. Why not? We should speak about this.

Question: You are changing many things. Where will these changes lead?

Pope Francis: I am not an enlightened one. I carry out what we cardinals resolved before the conclave of the general congregation where we discuss the problems of the church every day. Reflections and recommendations arose there. Very concretely the future pope will need a group of foreign advisors who do not live in the Vatican.

Question: You founded the council of cardinals…

Pope Francis: There are eight cardinals from all the continents and a coordinator. They meet here every two or three months. At the beginning of July, we will have four day sessions. We will carry out the changes that the cardinals desire. While doing that is not obligatory, it would be imprudent not to hear their voices.

Question: What do you think about the retirement of Benedict XVI?

Pope Francis: Pope Benedict opened a door, founded an institution and retired… I will do the same as he did, namely ask the Lord to enlighten me when the moment comes and tell me what I should do. He will surely do that.

I will not ask you who you will be supporting in the soccer World Cup.

Pope Francis: The Brazilians asked me to be neutral… (Laughs) I keep my word because Brazil and Argentina have always been opposed to each other.
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Capitalism and Left Unity
25 Jul 2014
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Unity, Class, Program

Edited version of a contribution by IBT supporter Barbara Dorn to a panel discussion on “Is there a need for left unity?” at the Platypus European Conference, London, 19 July 2014

One of the questions we often encounter is, “Why can't all you left groups just get together?” It's a good question that deserves a serious answer, whether it comes from people who lack experience in politics or more seasoned comrades who should already know the answer and frame it in seemingly more sophisticated terms like “left unity.”

It poses two other questions: What do we mean by “left”? and What do we mean by “unity”?

“Left” is used to refer to everything from the Lib Dems to the Greens to the Labour left to self-defined socialists of various types to anarchists to genuine communists and everything in between. What the term “left” does not refer to is the working class.

It is the political consciousness of the working class that is of central importance to achieving the goals that many of us share, whether it's winning a particular strike or carrying out a successful socialist revolution. The broadest possible unity of the working class against the capitalists and their states – that is what we need.

On the face of it, it might seem that the best way to achieve such unity would be to unify the existing tendencies that represent or seek to represent the working class (and exclude bourgeois forces like the Greens) and then democratically sort out our differences as we engage in real-life struggle. Something like this was the model for the First International, in which Karl Marx played a prominent role in the 1860s and early 1870s, and for the Second International, founded in 1889, which came to encompass such disparate formations as the British Labour Party, the German SDP, or the Russian SDLP. There were always elements that could not be contained within the common framework, but the idea of working-class political unity in the form of a single party was defended by virtually every leading socialist – in Karl Kautsky's formulation, “one class, one party” (or, to put it the other way round, a “party of the whole class”).

On the revolutionary left wing of the Second International – principally Lenin's Bolshevik faction in the fragmented Russian party – the idea of the “party of the whole class” had, as early as 1912, come into conflict with the need to defend the program of “working-class unity” in the form of socialist revolution. As Lenin noted in April 1914, “Unity is a great thing and a great slogan. But what the workers' cause needs is the unity of Marxists, not unity between Marxists, and opponents and distorters of Marxism.”

It would take two related world-historic events to definitively break genuine Marxists from the old organizational framework, radically changing our understanding of how to achieve revolutionary working-class unity. On 4 August 1914, deputies of the SDP betrayed the working class by voting in the Reichstag to grant funds to Germany to wage the imperialist war that had just broken out. In October 1917, Lenin's Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian bourgeoisie in the face of opposition from the right wing of the Russian workers' movement – the Mensheviks and right-wing Social Revolutionaries.

It had become clear that political unity with forces committed, openly or not, to preserving the bourgeois order meant unity with the capitalist class against the working class. Achieving working-class unity against the bourgeoisie would require Marxists to win over a majority of the working class through sharp political struggle against – and organizational independence from – the reformists and centrists. In 1919, the Third (or Communist) International was founded on an explicitly revolutionary basis.

During the first few years of its existence steps were taken to ensure that reformists and centrists were not admitted to the Comintern. Combined with disgust over the outright treachery of the Second International, these measures were used by some ultra-left tendencies to argue against working with social democrats in any fashion.

But organizational unity of genuine Marxists against non-Marxist tendencies does not preclude unity in action with reformists and other political currents. After intense debate, the Comintern thus came to advocate the “united front” – precisely this sort of temporary unity in action around clear objectives, e.g., a strike, a demonstration against imperialist war, preventing a fascist mobilization, or a defense campaign for a working-class political prisoner. In a united front, Marxists maintain their own separate political organization and do not stop criticizing their bloc partners. The united front is an opportunity for Marxists to demonstrate in practice and through propaganda that they, and not the reformists, are the most consistent fighters for the workers' cause.

There is a fashion these days for “unity initiatives” like Die Linke, Syriza, the French NPA and a long line of attempts in Britain of which Left Unity is the latest manifestation. These go beyond unity in action to attempt to build unity around a lowest common-denominator program and common propaganda by groups and individuals who do not in fact share a program. This is a step backwards from the Leninist vanguard party model of breaking with the reformists. Marxists may work with this type of organization in common actions. In rare cases where there is a clear trajectory to the left and room for political debate, we may even join such a formation in order to attempt to influence that trajectory (as we did with the Socialist Labour Party in Britain in the mid-1990s). But always our perspective is that of an uncompromising fight to win revolutionary forces by exposing the political dead end reformism represents for workers and oppressed.

At an anti-austerity demonstration in London a few weeks ago, I met a comrade who challenged me to tell him the three most important reasons why the IBT maintained a separate existence. I'd like to end today by answering that question, because this is very much related to the key question we need to answer as Marxist revolutionaries: What program do we need to overthrow capitalism?

1. The state

Capitalism cannot be gradually reformed – it must be destroyed. We have important political differences with those on the left who believe in a parliamentary road to socialism, or who vote for Labour in the belief that it can be “reclaimed.” We do not seek unity with those that believe the armed bodies of the state (e.g., police, prison guards) are part of the workers' movement. Or with those who call on the state to ban fascist marches (bans which are then inevitably used against the left). Or those who are not prepared to defy the punitive anti-union laws but instead plead for them to be repealed through legal channels. Or with those who take or share power in capitalist administrations and participate in the imposition of austerity budgets, as Die Linke have done in Berlin and the Green Party in Brighton.

2. Internationalism

Those who support their own ruling class in war, or who maintain neutrality in the face of imperialist attack on a semi-colony, are no friends of working-class unity against capitalism. We defend the right of nations to self-determination, but are opposed to so-called socialists who see the ideology of nationalism as in some way progressive, as many are now doing over Scotland.

3. Independence of the working class

The working class must defend the rights of all the oppressed, but we do not share ideologies such as feminism that call for unity of women across class lines. We do not seek unity with those who wish to work in collaboration with the bourgeoisie, or vote for popular front coalitions between bourgeois and workers' organizations. Getting this question wrong is no small matter and has caused the workers' movement to go down to bloody defeat many times over, for example, Spain in the 1930s, Chile in the 1970s. Trotsky described this as “the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch.”

We do need unity – unity of the working class under the leadership of a party based on a program like the one I have just described – and for the working class to use that program to take power. The long road to that point will involve many episodes of unity in action, but it will also require Marxists to reject unity with those whose politics are contrary to the historic interests of the working class.