Editor’s Note: This 2005 article commenting on the death of Pope John Paul II is being featured in light of the current papal circus following the resignation of Pope Benedict, a topic I will soon write about.
The enemies of human liberty and progress, the rich and powerful capitalist rulers of the earth, honored one of their own when they knelt before the body of the archreactionary, anti-Communist Pope John Paul II, the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland. President Bush ordered American flags flown at half-mast, while he and two former American presidents made the Vatican funeral rites. In contrast, when the last Pope died, Jimmy Carter sent his mother and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who lurked around Rome long enough to see the CIA’s favored candidate, Wojtyla, elected in 1978.
Wojtyla was no “people’s Pope,” as the capitalist media dubbed him in its necrophilic celebration of feudal remnants (from the death of the Pope to Prince Charles’ royal nuptials). In its crusade against Communism, U.S. imperialism had no more reliable political ally than Pope John Paul II. Above all, he worked tirelessly to reverse the results following World War II of the Red Army’s great victories against the Nazis: the overturn of capitalist property relations in East Europe, especially in his native Poland.
Even in church terms, Wojtyla was a reactionary. He favored the ultrareactionary Opus Dei, a lay organization that achieved political prominence in Franco’s Spain, and led a modern church inquisition that ruthlessly smashed internal dissent. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, promoted to a cushy Vatican post by Wojtyla, gave a funeral oration, a calculated slap in the face to Catholics outraged by Law’s—and the Pope’s—arrogant stonewalling over the Boston priest sex abuse scandals. The Pope’s medieval denunciation of sex, including forbidding condoms, is quite literally a death sentence for millions in the global AIDS pandemic.
In Latin America, Wojtyla crushed the “liberation theology” priests who actually had some sympathy for the poor, while promoting to Cardinal the Vatican’s ambassadors to the bloody Argentine and Chilean military juntas. In Chile in 1988, he personally blessed the junta’s leader, General Pinochet. This Pope of reaction made a special point of beatifying Nazi-lovers. Those he put on the first step to sainthood included the infamous Pope Pius XII, whose beatification process is still under way. Pius XII collaborated with the Nazi regime in Germany and the fascists in Spain and East Europe; he also refused to condemn the Holocaust against the Jews. Wojtyla also beatified Cardinal Stepinac, mentor to the bestial Croatian fascist regime in World War II. And he beatified nearly 200 priests who collaborated with the fascistic forces of Franco and died at the hands of the Republicans during the 1930s Spanish Civil War.
Above all, hatred of communism drove Pope Wojtyla’s political agenda. Of course, the Vatican is the largest landlord on the face of the planet, thus always viscerally hostile to the proletarian expropriation of capitalist property in the means of production and land. As Karl Marx pointed out in The Civil War in France (1871), the heroic Paris Commune understood this:
“Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the physical force elements of the old government, the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the ‘parson-power,’ by the disestablishment and disendowment of all churches as proprietary bodies.”
For American imperialism’s rulers, Wojtyla was a spearhead of their drive to overthrow the Soviet degenerated workers state, homeland of the October socialist revolution. According to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, Wojtyla made a secret deal with Reagan, agreeing not to oppose the U.S. installation of hundreds of cruise missiles targeting the USSR from all over West Europe in exchange for the U.S. cutting off its funding to women’s programs overseas that mentioned abortion.
In the Pope’s native Poland, the vehicle used by the CIA and Vatican to hammer away at Poland’s socialized property forms was Wall Street’s favorite “trade union,” Solidarnosc, which exploited the grievances of the Polish proletariat against the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy. Uniquely, we Spartacists warned that Solidarnosc was a stalking horse for counterrevolution. As the fate of the Polish working class hung in the balance in 1980, we forthrightly called for “A Workers Poland Yes! The Pope’s Poland No!” (Spartacist No. 30, Autumn 1980). Before Solidarnosc solidified as an open counterrevolutionary force, we said that the task of Trotskyist revolutionaries in Poland must be “to raise in these unions a series of demands that will split the clerical-nationalist forces from among the workers and separate them out. These unions must defend the socialized means of production and proletarian state power against Western imperialism. In Poland today the elementary democratic demand of the separation of church and state is a dividing line between the struggle for workers democracy and the deadly threat of capitalist restoration.”
This should have been elementary for any Marxist, especially in Poland, where the Catholic church is virulently anti-Semitic, a notorious bastion of reaction even within world Catholicism, and a powerful political force. But no. As we wrote in 1980: “First in Iran, now in Poland, various fake-lefts have maintained that the traditional church (Islamic Shi’ite and Roman Catholic respectively) can play a progressive, even a revolutionary, role. In this sense the opportunistic left shows an ideological regression similar to the bourgeoisie in the imperialist epoch” (“Religion & Reaction,” WV No. 268, 14 November 1980). Everyone from the American Socialist Workers Party to the pseudo-Trotskyists of the European United Secretariat to the “state capitalist” Cliffites, represented in the U.S. by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), vicariously bowed before Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Pope Wojtyla in Poland. The drive for capitalist counterrevolution in Poland, led by Pope Wojtyla and Solidarnosc, was the opening wedge for capitalist restoration throughout East Europe and the USSR. In Poland as in the USSR, this created vast misery: mass unemployment, homelessness and a furious wave of anti-Semitism, anti-woman legislation, anti-Roma (Gypsy) terror and all-sided clerical reaction.
In its struggle against feudalism, the bourgeoisie, when it was an ascending class, embraced Enlightenment rationalism and rejected the religious obscurantism of the feudal order’s ideological bulwark, the church. But today, in this epoch of imperialist decay, the bourgeoisie of the most powerful capitalist state rejects Enlightenment rationalism, embracing organized religion as one more means to prop up its rule. It falls to revolutionaries to uphold the liberating ideals of the Enlightenment and authentic Marxism. In Poland, one of these Marxists was the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Her words, in the 1905 essay “Socialism and the Churches,” are a fitting epitaph for all peddlers of religious obscurantism:
“The clergy, no less than the capitalist class, lives on the backs of the people, profits from the degradation, the ignorance and the oppression of the people. The clergy and the parasitic capitalists hate the organized working class, conscious of its rights, which fights for the conquest of its liberties.”