Pope John Paul II, post-Cold War anti-capitalist
Americans love to boast that the United States won the Cold War, and they like to use the claim to validate American capitalism.
The United States didn't "win" anything. To the contrary, the Soviet system failed internally because it could no longer suppress its citizens' desires for freedom, nor could it adequately provide material comfort. The extent to which people claim the U.S. won the Cold War, they tend to miss the inherent imperfections of the capitalist system, and conversely, the merits of Marxism.
I've spoken up at length about my views on capitalism elsewhere, but I'd like to share what Pope John Paul II said about capitalism. We know the Pope was opposed to the Soviet order, but less may be known about his opposition to unbridled capitalism.
John Paul is universally recognized as an inspiration for the Solidarity workers movement in Poland. The broad appeal of Solidarity exposed the weakness of the Soviet satellite government, which in turn led to the domino effect of other Soviet government failures. Ever since, John Paul has been widely hailed as a warrior against communist regimes.
While John Paul was justifiably very critical of "communist" (i.e., totalitarian socialist) regimes, neither did he parse words when criticizing the inhumanity of runaway capitalism.
On a visit to Canada in 1984, the Pope criticized the concentration of capital in large corporations, instead suggesting an economic model based upon smaller units of production when possible, with more decision-making power in the hands of workers. He deplored the "imperialistic monopoly" of wealthy nations, stating that they will be judged by poor people and poor nations for taking away their food and their freedom.
In his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), the Pope asserted that the Catholic church's notion of private property was radically different from both the Marxist and capitalist notions. He even suggested the need for the socialization of the means of production in some cases.
The Pope attacked the "radical capitalist ideology" of materialism and injustice in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Concern in Social Policy). He criticized both the Soviet and Western capitalist nations for the hardships they created throughout the globe, accusing them of neocolonial imperialism.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, the Pope clearly stated that the collapse of the Soviet system did not vindicate the capitalist nations, arguing that to claim victory without freeing their own people from poverty was not just. He warned:
The Western countries...run the risk of seeing this collapse as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system.
Later, on his 1993 visit to Latvia, John Paul proclaimed that there was "a kernal of truth in Marxism" which recognized the "exploitation to which an inhuman capitalism had subjected the proletariat since the beginning of industrial society."
The Pope spoke often of the advantages of capitalist enterprise, and clearly stated that he wasn't condemning market economies as the best of available economic systems. At the same time, he argued in 1997 "that a market economy left to unconditional freedom is far from bringing the greatest possible advantages to individuals and societies."
On his 1999 visit to Mexico, the Pope criticized the "neo-liberal" economic model which viewed economic activity in terms of "profit and law of the markets as its only parameters." Defiant of capitalist exploitation, he proclaimed, "No more exploitation of the weak...never again!"
On the topic of globalization, John Paul recommended as recently as 2002 that the market be subjected to laws of solidarity, to prevent individuals and societies from being adversely affected by deregulation of markets.
If a man could survive at all, history couldn't help but produce someone like John Paul (Karol Wojtyla), who knew first-hand the sins that could be committed in the name of extreme political ideologies. After all, tens of millions of people just like Karol Wojtyla were gassed, executed, fire-bombed, imprisoned, and disappeared over the course of the 20th Century by Bolsheviks, Leninists, Maoists, capitalists, military juntas, fascists, and...oh yeah, let's not forget that particular breed of fascists, the Nazis. The Nazis were particularly brutal in dealing with the Poles. The same cruelty and murder that the Nazis reserved for Jews, was visited upon the Poles with an added vengeance.
His experience with the Nazis, and later the Soviets, forged in Karol Wojtyla a rugged and courageous attitude in defiance of ideologies which deny people their lives and dignity. Karol Wojtyla, and anyone else who survived the Nazis, deserves our respect and attention.
After Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism were defeated, Pope John Paul II turned his attention to the last great evil, radical capitalism (and its bully counterpart, industrial-militarism). Indeed, on the topic of war, the Pope spared no words in berating George W. Bush for his policies in Iraq. His health visibly failing, Pope John Paul nevertheless made Bush look like a first-grader taking a stern lesson in behaving nice to classmates.
Although his final work remained incomplete, his strong advocacy for the poor and disadvantaged should inspire us all to continue the struggle for justice.
To conclude, this was (allegedly) the last rites declaration of Pope John Paul II:
The unforgiveable sins this earth must confront and overcome are nationalism, capitalism, and hoarding. The idea of every nation should be forgot, price should be struck from the commons, and princes should be seen for the devils they are. The sins include our church, secret societies, and other religions which make of the spirit of God a divide.
And this quote from John Paul, which aptly sums up his perspective:
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
For more about Pope John Paul II's views on economics and justice, John Pawlikowski wrote an excellent paper from which many of the quotes found here were drawn.