Theo Pirker – Catholics – Communists (1947)

[Theo Pirker was born in 1922 to a Catholic family. He came to addressing theological questions after Germany’s defeat in the war, in which he lost a foot and became an opponent of Nazism. He founded the Catholic magazine Ende und Anfang, a biweekly until 1949. It distinguished itself from the Frankfurter Hefte (published by Walter Dirks, a Catholic and SPD politician) by its internationalism, through its close connections with French periodical Esprit, it extensively covered colonial revolutionary developments. In Pirker’s academic life as a sociologist, he published books about the Moscow show trials, the SPD after Hitler, and the industrialisation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He was also at one time involved as a German representative to the International Committee of the Fourth International, having a deeply antagonistic attitude towards the British Trotskyist Gerry Healy (of whom he said: ‘A beefy little Irishman, who always filled me with terror. I thought with dread of what would happen if he were to take power.’)]

[First published in Ende und Anfang, vol. 2, no. 15. 1 November 1947]

In the national liberation struggles in Italy, Yugoslavia and France, there had often been a situation in which Catholics, laity and priests, fought in the ranks of the Communist resistance leagues against fascism. Out of this commonality of struggle, efforts developed on both sides which wanted to carry forward this cooperation onto the field of domestic political struggle. The leaders of the Communist parties stand against these endeavours as much as the Holy See do. The leaders of the Communist parties did so because, as ever, they regard religion as scientifically obsolete in naive faith in the absolute scientificness of their political convictions. They only want to tolerate it insofar as it remains in the sphere of individuals, as long as it is “unpolitical”. The high clergy of the Catholic Church has turned against cooperation between Communism and Catholics out of this experience but probably also, and in no small part, out of a natural feeling of fellowship with the class of the bourgeoisie, with whom it shares a lifestyle and whose property relations, in which it is intimately entangled particularly in Italy, Spain and South America, represent the material footing for the visible organisation of the Church.

The Holy Father may have come to his resolutions in justifiable concern for the sake of the salvation of the faithful entrusted to him and in the undoubtedly correct recognition that dialectical materialism in the form advocated up until now and the principles of our Catholic faith are irreconcilable. But his decision was supported most zealously even in the sphere of his own Church and especially in ranks of the political bourgeoisie, that has unfortunately taken the name “Christian” for itself in the mist – when will our Church finally turn against this – and almost the entirety of the clergy (the Osservatore Romano writes of the encouraging fact of the reinvigoration of Christian thought in politics and of a “Christian International” in the Western European countries”), so this decision by the Pope is used by these circles to put into action a fierce agitation against Communism and further against the Soviet Union, which can described the best as “crusade propaganda”.

Marxism is described as the theology of the Antichrist and Moscow as his seat. These “Christians” forget that the Antichristian also has its place and its “theologians” in London, Washington, Paris and Berlin and even – as it ought not be, here in the heart of the Church – in Rome!

The class struggle, the struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist class, is a political reality, which even the Pope has recognised. Only sixteen years ago, he called upon his faithful to proceed to a real transformation of society, to replace the class state with a corporative state and therefore deproletarianise the proletariat – with the result that the corporative state became the hideous face of Austrofascism and the deproletarianisation of the proletariat became a slogan of capitalist propaganda which sought to rob the fighting proletariat of its momentum. However, the political situation is now far beyond the encyclical “Quadragesimo Anno”; the demands are more pressing and serious – but the “Christian” parties don’t think about complying with the call of the Pope. The bourgeoisie cannot – even with the help of an embourgeoisified clergy – jump over their own shadow! 

It is especially one thing which binds us as young Catholics with the Communists: we fulfil the spiritual and the real supersession from the bourgeoisie with them! We cannot and do not want to confront the Communists as bourgeois idealists or materialists, regardless of type, but as Catholic Christians! And that means seeing the world in a real and hierarchical order!

In this thought, the proletarian idea is closer to us than the bourgeois one – namely in the acknowledgement of equality, which rests upon sacrifice, which, however, is tyranny if this sacrifice does happen out of freedom and will lead to a rigid collectivist slave state, if it lacks brotherliness. Hence the Communists will find us as their best comrades-in-arms every time that they fight against any form of oppression and the dehumanisation of humanity. However, we will be their most stringent and unconditional opponents every time that they stand against, in whatever form, the inner fabric of our Christian faith, that we hold as unalterably necessary for the construction and endurance of human culture – and this is not a conceit or a fixed idea, but rather a historical reality that ought to be self-evident for us Christians and at least more understandable for human beings in the European region than twenty years ago.

We know as modern human beings that politics is our fate, and there’s not a single one, be it a person or a cause or idea, that can escape this fate anymore. Hence the demand for an unpolitical Christianity is nothing other than the cleverly concealed contempt of religion in the life of society. A purely “individual Christianity” according to the demand of the Kulturkämpfer on the other side would be nothing other than the division of the indivisible, human individuality.

Who wants to deny that our position is a dangerous one? But when was it safe to be a Christian? We Christians have to take a position, in which we can never lose our sober-mindedness, today more than ever we require the spirit of vigilance and discernment that the kingdom may become that of holiness and order.

[Translated by R. V.]