Towards an Alliance of Communists and Catholics (New Features of the Spanish Scene) – Santiago Álvarez (June 1965)

Santiago Álvarez

[An article by Santiago Álvarez, founder of the Partido Comunista de Galicia, which analyzes the developments and activity of Spanish–and to a lesser extent, global–Catholicism from a sympathetic yet staunchly atheistic and “Marxist” standpoint. While parts of the essay are quite useless from a Catholic and Christian point-of-view–especially the author’s crude insistence on the supposed withering away of religion under communism–what interests us is its description of the various segments of Spanish Catholicism and their opposition to Franco. Thus, the essay–despite its crude Marxism–is very useful as a historical document.]

[Can be found in Chapter 3 of The Christian Marxist dialogue: an international symposium edited by Paul Oestreicher]

[This article was first printed in the World Marxist Review, June 1965.]

[The banner of the article is an image of the church of Ca n’Oriac, which was a regular meeting point for workers during the Franco dictatorship. [Source]]

The opposition movement now gathering momentum in Spain surpasses anything seen during the years of the Franco regime or for that matter in the past fifty years. The starting point and impelling force of this opposition is the new movement of the working class, which has its source in the workers’ committees and is permeated with the spirit of unity.

Sections of the population far removed from the proletariat have joined the movement. The protest actions of university students at their “freedom assemblies,” and especially their public demonstrations, which are supported by many faculty members, go far beyond the bounds of the students actions of previous years.

The opposition also enjoys the sympathy and support of the clergy and even of some of the dignitaries of the Church.

Basically this ferment has its source in the objective situation in Spain.

While recognizing the role played by other political forces and groups it can be said that one of the principal subjective reasons for the scope of the opposition movement is the unity of action between Catholics and Communists.

The Catholics are our main allies today in the struggle against Franco. This is a fact. It is perhaps the most characteristic and encouraging feature of the Spanish scene today.

The ideas expressed in this article about this new development and our experience are, of course, to be regarded as talking points that still need to be concretized and amplified.


This development in the Spanish Catholic movement did not come about suddenly and spontaneously. It originated in the intensification of the struggle of the working class and especially as a result of the joint actions in which Communists and Catholics participated beginning with the end of the ’50’s. [1] The support accorded the working-class struggle by the Workers’ Brotherhoods of Catholic Action [probably a reference to the HOAC or the Hermandad Obrera de Acción Católica] during the strike movement of 1962 aggravated relations between the Church and the government. This process of rapprochement between Catholics and Communists has quickened in recent months.

Members of the Catholic Association and Catholic Working Youth [JOC] join our members in strikes, public demonstrations and other forms of the working-class struggle. Many of them are members of the joint committees leading the new working-class movement.

Whereas in the past Catholic participation in joint actions with Communists was more or less sporadic, it is now broader and more conscious. Not only have masses of Catholic workers broken away from the control of the Church, and their striving for unity and their militancy played an extremely important part in the entire process, there is also what could be described as a new orientation on the part of some Catholics, the “line” of the National Union of the Apostolic Laity (although this “line” has not been fully elaborated and is not consistently pursued).

To cite some facts: At one of the trials of Asturian miners the parish priest of the mining village of Mieres, on behalf of the clergy of his province and with the authorization of the bishop of Oviedo, testified at the Tribunal of Public Order in Madrid in defense of the miners. Priests have also participated in a number of workers’ demonstrations. In many cases leaflets or appeals to strike are printed with their help; the workers’ committees often meet on premises placed at their disposal by priests who keep watch to warn the workers of the approach of the police; meetings banned by the authorities are often held on the premises of the parish.

These and other facts show that priests are continuing to act side by side with Communists in this new stage of the struggle being waged by the working class and the entire people.

And the feature of this stage is an alliance of Communists and Catholic workers. Based on the struggle for common aims and loyal cooperation, this alliance is the cornestone of the unity of the new working-class movement.

Catholic students, too, are beginning to take a more direct and active part in the struggle. In the recent student demonstrations members of the Democratic University Federation were joined by members of the Union of Democratic Youth and Catholic Student Youth, and by students in the Catholic universities in Comillas and Deusto, and of the “Opus Dei” student movement in Navarra.

Fr. Aureli Maria Escarré

The stand taken in defense of democracy by the abbot of Montserrat monastery, Father [Aureli Maria] Escarré, and his group at the end of 1963 (and also the actions by three hundred Basque priests in 1960) was an important step by clergy towards the formation of a more open and decisive opposition to the Franco regime. Father Escarré (now in exile) and his group, who pressed for an amnesty for political prisoners, freedom of conscience and democratic liberties, and for the restoration of nationality rights in the Spanish state, voiced the views of considerable democratic and nationalist Catholic circles. When the hierarchy sought to ostracize Father Escarré some four hundred priests in Catalonia rallied to his defense.

When the Tribunal of Public Order, which convicted Sandoval and other Communists, instituted proceedings against another Catalonian priest, Father [Josep] Dalmau, there were renewed demonstrations, in one of which one hundred priests marched outside the courthouse.

Fr. (or “Mossèn”) Josep Dalmau

This is the first time that Catholic clergy have engaged in such “plebian” forms of action as meetings and demonstrations—characteristic primarily of the working people—in order to express their protest against the fascist methods of government. The aforementioned examples and also the demonstration by Basque clergy in Guernica, in defense of a fellow priest who in a sermon denounced the police for torturing prisoners, are a sign of the times.

Prominent Catholic personalities, too, are voicing their views on internal issues, including the issue of freedom and democracy. In a recent lecture Professor Aranguren, Catholic philosopher, made an impassioned plea for democratic liberties. [2]

Various Catholic journals, among them Sena d’Or and Cuadernos para el Dialogo, favor the idea of a dialogue with Communists, uphold trade union freedom and the right to strike, and stress the need for structural reforms and, primarily, for a profound agrarian reform.

Comrade Santiago Carrillo was referring to the concrete experience of our Party when he wrote “… in Spain in particular, Catholic organizations are participating, at times very actively, in the fight for social demands and democratic liberties,” that “they frequently join forces with the Communists in the struggle for the vital interests of the masses.” [3]

The events of recent months have confirmed and amplified this experience.

Some weeks ago, Professor Manuel Gimenez Fernandez [4] discussing the papal appeal to Catholics to participate in political life (Pacem in Terris), pointed to the need for deep going structural reforms in Spain. Fernandez believes that this can be accomplished in cooperation with other groups or political parties even if their philosophy is the opposite of Catholicism (for instance, Communists), “provided there is agreement on concrete issues pertaining to the government of the country.”

The formation in January of the Christian Democratic Union corresponds, to some extent, with Fernandez’ proposal. The Union’s program and its “Declaration of Principles” have many points in common with our democratic program (agrarian reform with the land being handed over to those who till it; nationalization of the banks and big monopolies and respect for the rights of the nationalities). But there is the danger that this program might became just another document if it is not reinforced by mass action, if it does not reflect that which is now usually referred to as social tension. True enough, some of the points in the program are the product of mass action and social tension.

Even more important perhaps than the program and the Declaration was the discussion around these documents when they were being worked out. During the discussion the anti-Communists had to retreat; they even had to agree to some formulations being modified, which could have been interpreted to the disadvantage of the Communist Party.

Recently a document of very great importance for the nation appeared, signed by 1,161 representatives of the working class and intelligentsia, among them Catholic leaders, priests, Communists and people of other democratic trends. The points contained in this document coincide with the platform of our Party (freedom of association and especially trade union freedom; the right to strike, freedom of information and expression; freedom for all political prisoners and the annulment of responsibility deriving from the civil war).

One of the signs of the new situation in Spain is the retreat of anti-Communism, the failure of the attempts by the dictatorship and agents of imperialism to impose anti-Communism on the opposition, especially in Catholic circles. Significant in this respect is Professor Ruiz-Gimenez’s actions and his rupture with the regime following the debate in the Cortes on the Law on Associations, which should be seen in their relation to the new trends in the Vatican with respect to Spain and the steps taken recently by the Spanish Church itself. We have in mind the objections raised by the National Union of the Apostolic Laity and Ecclesia, central organ of Catholic Action, to the aforementioned Law on Associations; the editorial in the same journal on the significance of strikes and student demonstrations which, it wrote, “reflect aspirations that have become urgent”; etc.

Thus the positive attitude adopted by the Catholic working-class movement and by substantial sections of the Catholic laity toward the necessity of ending the fascist form of government and clearing the way for democracy is merging with the new trends in the Church itself, and with the trend of the apostolic laity.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that this is a one-way process of smooth development, that it is not meeting with the resistance of some groups pursuing their own ends in the political struggle, that it is not encountering obstacles in the trade unions placed in the way by the hierarchy, that it does not have to contend with the pressure exerted on the Church by the regime and by circles of the monopolistic oligarchy. Be that as it may, one of the features of the present situation is that the Catholic Church, envisaging the collapse of the Franco regime, is, consequently, gradually disengaging itself so as not to be engulfed with it when the crisis comes. But whatever its ulterior motives, the fact is that the Church’s attitude benefits the democratic movement.

What is even more significant perhaps is that we are witnessing a deep-going process, one in which efforts are now being made to renovate the Church in Spain and to effect a radical change.

Let us hear what some Catholic leaders have to say about the factors impelling them to advocate change.

“The Church” Miguel Benzo, General Secretary of Catholic Action, has declared, “knows of three types of pastorals: ‘the Pastoral of Authority,’ the ‘Pastoral of Segregation’ and the ‘Pastoral of Persuasion’ . . . The ‘Pastoral of Persuasion’ is appropriate when Christian unanimity is absent, when lack of faith asserts itself not as an external danger but as something within ourselves. . .” In Spain, Benzo continues, “Catholic action up to 1939 was guided by the ‘Pastoral of Segregation,’ after 1939, by the ‘Pastoral of Authority’ and since 1959 it has been guided by the ‘Pastoral of Persuasion’ . . .”

After stressing that profound “changes in the structure of the Church, in its way of thinking and in its action’ are absolutely necessary, Miguel concludes that the present situation in Spain and throughout the world makes it imperative for Catholic Action to “adapt its activity to the era of rapid change.”

This “era of rapid change” is the era of the transition from capitalism to socialism, of the abolition of the antagonistic social system based on exploitation of man by man, of the era of scientific-technological revolution, whose significance cannot be overestimated.

For a number of historical and social reasons these contradictions, universal in their implications, are of a specific nature in Spain owing to internal factors of very great importance.

Constantinian views and the deep-seated integralism predominating universally in the Church hierarchy are rooted in Spanish reality with its archaic structure and its semi-feudal survivals. However, the existence of a strong and militant working class whose political consciousness is steadily growing, the growth of the revolutionary movement that is renovating the nation and more and more isolating the exclusive social group of the monopolistic oligarchy, and also the growing ideological influence of Marxism-Leninism—all show that’ definite changes are taking place in the Catholic movement and in the Church itself, more so in Spain than in any other Western country. It is not accidental that at the Ecumenical Council Monsignor Guerra Campos, Councillor of Catholic Action, Secretary of the Spanish Episcopacy and President of the National Union of the Apostolic Laity, strongly supported the idea of a dialogue with the Marxists.

However, we should not forget what happened during: the civil war and afterwards, the fact that the Church bears its share of responsibility for this war and that it has to atone for this grave historical sin which hangs like a sinister shadow over its pastoral calling. The Church’s support of the fascist revolt; its indifference over the years to the thousands of shootings and to the reprisals generally; its silence about the tortures; its support of the social policy of the regime and its attempts to reconcile the classes in the interests of monopolistic capital—all this prepared the way for a profound process in the country which some Catholic commentators have described as “dechristianization.”

As more far-sighted Catholics admit, the “humble classes” began to lose faith in the Church. The Church’s spiritual influence has waned. “The youth, particularly the university youth,” according to the Bishop of Astorga, “is moving away from the Church.” “Surely it is clear,” says Father Dalmau, “that in our country the Church has still not convinced a multitude of people.”

If the Church really wants to regain some of its lost spiritual influence it will have to be self-critical and, more important still, it will have to thoroughly revise its old attitude, that is, steer a new course. This seems to be the underlying meaning of Monsignor Guerra Campos’ speech at the Ecumenical

The period of intoxication with the “victory” of 1939 has ended; the grievous wounds inflicted on the people by the civil war have healed; there is a resurgence of the vital forces of democracy and progress; the class struggle has entered upon a new phase—these developments could not but affect the Catholic movement and that section of it most sensitive to the new situation.

Compared with the end of the 1950’s when the Catholic Action’s switch-over to a “Pastoral of Persuasion” had for its background the battles of 1956 fought by the working class and students—a now post-civil war generation not swayed by fascist ideology—the “speed” at which top-ranking Catholic clergy and laymen are now changing their attitude is a response to the speed at which the working-class and mass struggle is developing. This means that the course this struggle takes will be of decisive importance both now and in the future. And this struggle, operating as the principal factor, is reinforced by other factors.

These include, first of all, what the Catholics themselves have described as the “new frontiers of the Vatican,” which began with Pope John’s encyclical Pacem in Terris. This encyclical, which opened a new period in the life of the Church, has not only made for better relations between Communists and Catholics, despite the efforts of the conservative forces to detract from its influence; it also set into motion forces within the Church who want renovation.

At this point the question arises: To what extent is renovation possible?

The main thing is that in our rapidly changing world the general law of the class struggle (in its broadest and universal meaning) affects both the Catholic movement and the Church itself as an institution. Inside the Church a sharpening struggle is taking place between those who do not want the Church to remain a class, political and ideological instrument of capitalism and imperialism, on the one hand, and on the other the archreactionary elements who adhere to “integralist,” “traditionalist” and “conservative” views, as a leading Spanish Catholic describes them. The reactionaries want to prevent the Church from taking the path indicated by John XXIII, and even threaten a split if they can’t have their way.

How will the struggle develop? Will the adherents of ‘modernization,” who are inspired by Pope John’s precepts, triumph? Will the conservatives be able to impose their views, even temporarily? Or will there be a split?

At the present stage of social development and scientific-technological advance, the physical impossibility of destroying socialism (which for decades was the object of the Church) without destroying humanity is a fact of immense significance. Having realized this, John XXIII wanted the Church to keep in step with: the times. If socialism is a reality, then this reality must be accepted, taken into account, by entering into) contact with it and having dialogue with it

This reality and all that it implies for the general !j a development of the class struggle (including the ideological sphere) will continue to influence favorably the course charted by John XXIII. The Church’s movement in this direction is apparently irreversible.

But this in itself does not guarantee the triumph of John XXIII’s ideas without struggle, does not guarantee the evolution of the Church in this direction, does not remove the possibility of a split. Despite the changes that have taken place in the world, the experience gained by the Church at the dawn of capitalism when the Reform movement arose cannot be overlooked.

If the forces fighting for the renovation of the Church are to be stimulated, if they are to develop and exert a decisive influence on Church life, we Marxists must take into account the aforementioned circumstances and the influence which, with the development of the class struggle, our own attitude can exert on these forces.

Our ability to see the new and to facilitate, on a principled basis, the unity of Catholics and Communists in working for common national, democratic and revolutionary aims is extremely important.

It is clear to Communists and to millions of Spaniards that the theses advanced by our Party in 1954 on its attitude to Catholic worship, and particularly its policy of national accord, elaborated in 1956, made a profound impression on broad circles of Spanish society and particularly on Catholics. We thus facilitated for them unity of action with us, despite the threats of excommunication made by the Holy Office and despite the traditionally reactionary attitude of the church hierarchy.

In our view this experience confirms Lenin’s idea, which he expressed some fifty years ago, that it is far more important for workers to have real alliance here, on earth, in the name of winning common earthly aims, than differences about the existence of another world in heaven.

We Spanish Communists are sparing no efforts to create such an alliance, for we are convinced not only that it is necessary to fight together with Catholics for these aims right now, but also that it is possible to continue this alliance in the future.

People who take a narrow pragmatic approach might ask what the purpose of establishing such an alliance is if the Church is losing its spiritual influence over the masses. The answer is simple. Despite the obvious weakening of the Church’s spiritual influence in recent years, it is still strong in Spain, particularly in the countryside and among the petty-bourgeoisie and women.

The two most important ideological trends in Spain today are the revolutionary Marxist ideology and the Catholic ideology. Hence a truly popular, democratic and revolutionary struggle implies the participation in it of millions of Catholics. Even if a new religious conscience exists outside the Church, our aim to draw it into the struggle morally, or at least to neutralize it, is one in which all the people are vitally interested. The experience of the civil war is instructive in this respect. But we repeat, we do not approach this alliance from a purely pragmatic standpoint. We do not: consider it as something accidental and limited to the present stage of the struggle against the fascist form; of government, but as something substantial and permanent, something which should continue—as we envisage in our long-range program—throughout the period of democratic development as well as in the socialist future of Spain.


Engels wrote that Christianity originated as a movement of the oppressed, that it appeared at first as the 1 religion of the slaves and freemen, of the poor and the downtrodden. Both Christianity and socialism, he noted, preached coming salvation from slavery and misery, but whereas Christianity sought salvation in another world, in heaven, socialism sought it in this world in a reconstruction of society. Lenin, too, stressed the “democratic revolutionary spirit” of primitive Christianity.

These views hold true today too. In the past twenty-five years Spanish Catholic workers and peasants, who are exploited in the same way as non-Catholics, often had to wage an underground struggle, to seek refuge in the “catacombs.” Many Catholics are still persecuted by the regime which proclaims itself to be a Catholic state.

Catholics now see the decisive contribution made by Communists in defense of the working class and the people, the lofty moral spirit, integrity and revolutionary passion they have displayed in the fight for a better social system; Catholics now understand many aspects of our ideology. They also see that Communists respect their religious beliefs.

The objective conditions which have led many working people to lose faith in religion have created a new frame of mind among Catholics. They frequently now turn to the past, to early Christianity. But unlike two thousand years ago when Christianity taught that salvation would only come in the other world, after death, growing numbers of believers are now fighting, without renouncing this salvation, for a paradise on earth.

The struggle is also teaching revolutionary Marxists a great deal. In contrast to previous years, the religious beliefs of workers are no longer considered an obstacle to their participation in the struggle..

Just as there is a growing understanding that social- ism, for which the Marxists are working, is a pressing necessity, and that the dialectical materialist philosophy is affirming itself as the only philosophy that can offer a vision of the future, so there is a growing conviction that personalities whose philosophy is not materialist can take part (and they are taking part) in the revolutionary struggle for democracy and socialism. This, needless to say, opens up new horizons.

Those sections of Spanish Catholicism demanding that greater attention be paid to social problems are growing. The desire to advance towards a society in which there will be no exploitation of man by man exists not only among the Catholic workers, but is shared also by Catholicism in other walks of life. The changes in the Catholic movement are not only prompting the church to ‘modernize” itself; they are also prompting Catholics to speak about socialism. What in the past was comprehensible only to some outstanding minds and later to progressives is now becoming a more or less conscious phenomenon.

This is not accidental. Socialism is definitely leaving its imprint on Spanish reality. The anti-Communist crusade cost our country millions of lives. For years the forces of socialism were hounded and persecuted, only to revive and grow stronger. What is to be done under the circumstances? The words spoken by Professor Ruiz-Gimenez in defense of the Communists at their trial are truly symbolic: “If Communism is an historical fact, it means that God chooses that it should be so.”

Father Dalmau, a Catalonian priest, believes, rightly or wrongly, that a “large part of the Left wing of Italian Christian Democracy holds firm socialist convictions” and asserts that this is a heavy blow to those who think that socialism, is irreconcilable with religion and religion irreconcilable with socialsm [sic].

José María González Ruiz, author of The New Creation: Marxist and Christian?

Marxists have never said that socialism is incompatible with the existence of religion among broad sections of the population. Everyday life in the Socialist countries is the proof of this. But what interests us particularly is Father Dalmau’s statement that this irreconcilability does not exist in Spain either. That is why he has identified himself with those who believe that “socialism as a technical instrument brings the world more justice than all previous socio-political structures.” “Mans attitude to labour, the condemnation of capitalism, abolition of classes, the building of socialism—on all these points we must soberly and honestly compare ideas” writes the priest Jose Maria Gonzales Ruiz in Juventud Obrera, organ of the Catholic working youth, discussing the necessity for a dialogue with Marxists. These facts show how insistently the ideas of socialism are knocking at the doors of the Catholic working-class movement and the Church.

Some Catholic thinkers in our country are more and more sharply taking issue with the existing system of property and raising the question of the need for structural changes.

Miguel Benzo, for example, says: “How can we speak of the duty of self-perfection when access to the treasures of culture is closed to proletarians and even to the most well-to-do peasants? This is precisely where it becomes the duty of all Christians to contribute to the rapid evolution of social structures since it is these structures that influence the destinies of people on earth and in the hereafter.”

Professor Ruiz-Gimenez expressed a similar opinion. “Political power,” he says, “is entitled to expropriate property or companies which, because of excessive concentration of economic power, are hampering the fair distribution of the national income and even the independence of the government.”

Ruiz-Gimenez goes on: “I have in mind ‘socialization’ as it was interpreted by His Holiness John XXIII, i.e., as a process of the development of relations between people, as affirmation of the forms of social life which will make it possible for all people and all nations to enjoy the achievements of civilization and technology. But I also have in mind, ‘socialization,’ where this is necessary, in the narrower sense, in the sense of the transfer to the State, the trade unions and co-operatives or the smaller associations, of the right of ownership, or management, of the sources of the production of wealth which ensure a strong social and political power, but this power should be in the hands only of true representatives of the national or international community.” [5]

In his Critical Attitude to Social Problems, the Reverend Jose Maria Diez Alegria, professor of the Gregorian University in Rome, quoting from St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians that “He who does not work shall not eat,” likewise criticizes the existing system of property. Defending only private property in articles of consumption and means of production that are not of decisive importance, he states that “our system of private property, taken as a whole, is contrary to natural law.” [6]

At the Ecumenical Council Bishop Guerra Campos expressed the wish that the Church should be “a reality, standing above the various socio-economic structures. A reality and not only [of] the past; a transforming force looking to the future.”

The meaning of the words “various structures” is clear. But the phrase “a transforming force” can be interpreted to mean that the Church should not link its destiny with capitalism. Can this future be other than socialism, the objective inevitability of which is becoming more and more evident?

It is true that none of the authors clearly define their views on socialism. While recognizing the need for structural reform and social changes they see the solution in neo-capitalism or reforms. Be that as it may, it should be noted at this stage of the transition from capitalism to socialism that the basic socialist alternative stemming from the dialectics of development is increasingly taken for granted also by non-Communists.

The socialist alternative will gain ground all the ; faster and all the more “naturally” the more revolutionary Marxists develop mass action and involve the Catholics in this action, by giving constructive answers to the questions posed by them and by the Church.

Spanish Communists have been giving thought to these answers. They concern the secular character of the state; guaranteeing freedom of conscience and performance of religious rites; aid to Catholicism by the state; the possibility of the revolutionary transformation of society without resort to violence; the Party’s support of a multi-party system, including Catholic parties, in the period of building socialism.

Some events of the past decade have had particular repercussions in Spain. The socialist character of the Cuban revolution has greatly attracted the youth of the middle classes. The youth is impressed also by the fact that the Algerian people’s religious beliefs, although very different from Catholicism, have not suffered in any way as a result of Algeria adopting a socialist form of govermnent.

Speaking of this reminds me of the surprise of a Communist intellectual when on a visit to Cuba he saw in a house the image of Christ beside pictures of Marx and Castro. He was quite taken aback. He failed to understand the significance of this fact, namely that the concept of socialism and its practical implementation are increasingly appealing to people’s minds.

As Lenin foresaw, the concept of the specific features associated with building a new society is being amplified and enriched. Here, too, the problems can be dis- cussed and solved in ideological and political debate between Communists, Catholics and other democratic groups.

And in a socialist Spain, too, there will be no coercion, no administrative measures against religious beliefs, against Catholicism. This means that, without weakening the ideological struggle and renouncing our materialist world outlook, we foresee coexistence of Church and socialism for an indefinite period, until there will be created, as Marx said, “a certain material groundwork or set of conditions of existence, which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development.” [7]

Catholics and the Church itself may accept our statements with varying degrees of confidence, but for all that the changing reality should be borne in mind.

Today, as distinct from the 1930’s, the last decade of the monarchy, the situation in the country is no longer determined by the petty-bourgeois anti-clerical who, while attacking the priest, left intact the economic power of the landlord and the oligarchy. It is no longer the reformist Social-Democratic Party, swayed by anti- clericalism, nor the anarcho-syndicalist trend of unprincipled radicalism, which decides the basic issues of the working class. Today the Communist Tarty—the embodiment of the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the champion of the interests of the working class and democracy— is the guarantee that the revolution will not be diverted from its path into anti-clerical channels. We will prevent this from happening by virtue of our principled philosophical outlook, and all the more so if Catholics, understanding the full significance of the times through which the world and Spain are passing, will fight with us to elevate man to “a higher level of self-knowledge” (Jose Maria Gonzalez-Ruiz).


When in the new correlation of social forces growing numbers of Catholics are upholding peace in the spirit of Pacem in Terris, when a radical improvement in conditions is demanded, when the right of women to participate in public life is recognized, when abolition of colonialism is hailed and the general belief con- firmed that all are equal, irrespective of sex, class or race, when at the Ecumenical Council freedom of conscience is upheld, when proposals are made for the purpose of putting an end to the moral and material bondage in which the Church kept millions of people or which it helped to maintain by its power—when all this is happening, there are unlimited opportunities for unity and cooperation between Catholics and Communists. They are, first of all, the opportunity for joint action at a definite stage (for the restoration of democratic liberties), or over a period of time (for the development of democracy), the opportunity to wage a joint struggle against the moral decline engendered by neo-capitalism, which is more and more turning man into a robot; against the violation of human values by the latest forms of exploitation; for structural reforms that will ensure a socialist future; in defense of freedom generally, and in particular from want, oppression, and the alienation associated therewith, including, to quote Father Ruiz, freedom from “religious alienation”.

When Spanish dignitaries of the Church declared at the highest level (for example, Bishop Guerra Campos at the Ecumenical Council) in favor of a dialogue with the Communists on questions of both ideology and the future, Communists responded at once. We believe that a dialogue is not only possible but urgently necessary. We accept this dialogue because, among other reasons, our concept of an alliance between Catholics and Communists is broadening out, due to the factors mentioned earlier, especially the influence of the expanding spheres of socialism. We accept a dialogue with Christians also because we “hope to find in it elements of mutual enrichment,” to quote Bishop Gonzalez-Ruiz.

This approach makes it incumbent on us to study some problems more closely. The social practice of our time and the principles of Marxism-Leninism demand of us that we treat questions of religion and of the Church more profoundly than has been the case up to now.

Bishop Gonzalez-Ruiz, whom we have quoted so often in this article, speaking of Marxism (thus giving added proof of the interest displayed in Spain in our ideology), said that one should “not pass unattested judgment on an ideology which influences the lives of so many people and so many nations, and which gives hope to so many of the oppressed and the exploited.”

For us it is important to establish what points of contact the Church proposes as a basis on which millions of believers would help us to realize this hope, proceeding from the immediate material demands of the common social struggle.

Religious misery, Marx wrote, was at one and the same time expression of real misery and a protest against this real misery, religion was the sigh of the oppressed creature, the kindliness of a heartless world, the spirit of unspiritual conditions; it was the opium of the people.

In the hundred and twenty years that have passed since Marx expressed this view of religion, it is the final phrase that has been most often quoted. Generally speaking, this is correct and necessary, considering that the ruling classes have always used religion as an opiate. But this is not the only aspect Marx had in mind. If we confine ourselves to this aspect we will not find the solution to the concrete and important theoretical and practical social problems which face us today in our relations with believers, and which will crop up in the future as well.

As materialists we deny the “transcendental,” the idea of God and the existence of something outside matter. But we should not ignore the fact that millions believe in this “something,” that religion exists and that with all its complexities it is a real and tangible superstructural phenomenon.

In the rapidly changing world when opportunities are opening up for millions of Christians to help bring about these changes together with Communists, if we accept religion as a form of protest against the “real misery” of which Marx spoke, this will stimulate this protest and bring it to its logical conclusion—a struggle to abolish the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression, the social base that engendered this protest. Christians want to find the answer to their protest against “real misery” today, not in the hereafter, “in the millennium to come,” the solution offered by religion. Hence their growing opposition.

Ignorance and fear of the forces of Nature, helplessness in the face of his surroundings, impelled man to create his own gods. Later, with the division of society into antagonistic classes religion became a vital part of the superstructure serving the interests of the exploiting classes.

The different historical and social ways of development of the different groups of peoples or civilizations determined the emergence of different creeds, the creation of definite canons and religious norms. In most parts of the world and at all times religion has hampered social development. However, at certain stages of history, when religion was used by rising classes it gave shape to the real, positive content of the struggle and thus played a positive role. Engels recalled this in his The Peasant War in Germany. Lenin too mentioned this in a letter to Maxim Gorky: “There was a time in history when, despite the varying origins and actual meaning of the idea of God, the struggle waged by democrats and the proletariat took the form of a struggle of one religious idea against another.” “But,” Lenin added, “that time has long since passed.”

That is quite true. But in the ideas of good, equality and fraternity, preached by the Christian religion—and reflected in the honest and sincere consciousness of believers—there are elements which could be a positive contribution to the liberation struggle. These elements stem not from religion as such; they have been borrowed by religion from the nonreligious, objective forms of relations between people as members of society. These elements could be a stimulus and not an obstacle to the struggle. That is our view. Instructive in this respect is the example of Algeria which is carrying out revolutionary changes (not to speak of the processes taking place in our own country). Religion can be an inspiring banner in those instances where the religious movement supports social reforms and socialism. This has been corroborated by some leading Catholics in Spain who have expressed themselves in favor of united action with the Marxists, of “religion not being considered and exploited as an obstacle to human progress.”

These developments call for serious reflection. We should give thought also to the changed forms in which religion manifests itself as a reflection, although a “fantastic” one, of the rapidly changing world.

Engels in his Anti-Duhring showed the evolution of Christianity through the ages. This evolution continues, reflecting the new reality.

In the encyclical Pacem in Terris and at the Ecumenical Council, the very essence of the religious idea is being examined, revised and renovated. In many of the speeches and the draft documents distributed at the Council less is being said about religion’s relation to the transcendental, to God, and more about its relation to concrete ideas and moral values. Marxist philosophers should take note of this.

Nor should we overlook the different encyclicals determining the Church’s attitude to socialism.

The encyclical Rerum Novarum, for instance, which appeared in 1891, before there was a socialist country, speaks of socialism in general terms as a “false solution which would worsen the conditions of workers.” The encyclical Quadragesima Anno, published in 1931, when the Soviet Union already existed, draws a distinction between “socialism” (reformist) and “communism,” which it says “preaches and tries to carry out by all means, including the most violent, a bitter class struggle and gradually to destroy private ownership”; in contrast to this “communism” the encyclical extols reformist socialism. The encyclical of Pius XI, Divina Redemtoris [sic], which appeared in 1937, the time of the Popular Front in France and the civil war in Spain, spoke about “atheist communism” and condemned it. Pius XII, referring to the same theme, singled out “materialist and atheist communism” so as not to confuse it with “socialism” (reformist). The encyclical of John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, published after the meeting of representatives of eighty-one Communist and Workers’ Parties in Moscow in December 1960, refrains from emphatically condemning communism; it might be said to mark the beginning of a transitional phase. And the encyclical Pacem in Terris, far from condemning communism, opens new opportunities for Catholics cooperating with socialism as a social system, with Communism as “an historical, humanist movement”

“The religious reflex of the real world,” Marx said, “can in any case finally vanish, when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellow men and to Nature.” [8] This means that even under socialism, when class contradictions and exploitation cease to exist, the disappearance of religion will be a gradual and prolonged process. Referring to Marx’s idea that religion will die a natural death as the result of progress in a society which can only be a Communist society, Jose Gomez Caffarena, a Jesuit padre of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature in Alcala de Henares, says: “We Christians can fully accept this challenge.”

But Marx’s thesis cannot be accepted without accepting, at the same time, the idea of cooperation between Catholics and Communists in creating the society referred to by Marx. This is what Caffarena evidently has in mind.

Bishop Guerra Campos also appears to have been thinking along these lines when, at the Ecumenical Council, he proposed beginning a dialogue between Catholics and Marxists: “If in the future society, no matter how perfect it will be, people will still aspire to the transcendental, then we must recognize that this aspiration is inherent in man’s nature and consequently admit that the subjective has an objective basis.”

We on the contrary believe that at a certain stage in the development of Communist society, when the relations between people and Nature will be “perfectly intelligent and reasonable,” as Marx said, the yearning for the transcendental, for the other world, will dis- appear. Thus, logic tells us that the way to test the two positions—the Marxist and the Catholic—is to begin right now joint actions to reconstruct society and to advance, through successive stages, to the creation of a society where both ideologies will be put to the test; so why not make the experiment?

[1] S. Carrillo, “The Underground Party and its Contact with the Masses” in Problems of Peace and Socialism (Prague, 1961), no. 4.
[2] Lecture delivered at the Friends of UNESCO Club, on the U.N. “Declaration on the Rights of Man” and on the encyclical Pacem in Terris.
[3] Problems of Peace and Socialism no. 11, 1964, p. 18.
[4] Professor Manuel Gimenez Fernandez occupies the Chair of Canonic Law at the University of Seville. At the time of the Republic and the Government of the Rights (1933-34) he was Minister of Agriculture and adviser to the Catholic agricultural trade unions. He is one of the inspirers and leaders of the Christian Democratic Union.
[5] Open letter to Jose Maria Peman, “Cuadernos para el dialogo,” no. 1, 1963, p. 5.
[6] Pedro Altares, “Cuadernos para el dialogo,” nos. 5-6, 1964.
[7] Das Kapital, vol. I, p. 80.
[8] Das Kapital, vol. I, p. 19.