A debate with Michael Löwy: the Pope, radical and anti-systemic?

Löwy is a well known French-Brazilian Marxist intellectual. In an interview published in the newspaper Pagina 12 last July 9, he openly praises Pope Francis. Why we believe it is a mistaken position.

It is not the first time that Löwy writes about Judeo Christian religion. Among other books, he has published Redemption and Utopia: Libertarian Judaism in Central Europe (1997), The war of gods. Religion and Politics in Latin America (1999), Sociologies and religion: dissident approaches (2009) and his brand new Christianity of liberation: ecosocialist and Marxist perspectives (2019).

He is close to the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement and defends the Latin American theology of liberation. Löwy is politically referenced in the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International. That is why he is generally considered not only Marxist, but also Trotskyist. But the mistaken strategy of the USFI, that has for decades sugar coated political leaderships and social movements of the centre left that end up being helpful to capitalism, impregnates Löwy´s entire work and positions.

The problem is that those positions are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Leon Trotsky.

Not radical nor anti-systemic: pro-capitalist

“Pope Francis, despite having his roots in the Christian culture of the Latin American theology of liberation, combined with the Argentinian Catholic people´s theology, at a certain point goes further, he is more radical, more anti-systemic” says Löwy in his Paris apartment to interviewer Emilce Cuda, a theologist and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.

What does anti-systemic mean? That he opposes the capitalist system? Because one thing is to criticize poverty or the money-god once in a while, as this and other Popes have, and a very different thing is to deeply question the permanent industry of poverty that is the capitalist system. However, in his ideological and political setback, Löwy does not doubt: “Laudato Si is an encyclical that is very critical of the economic system; a radical critique that goes further than the People´s Theology; an anti-systemic encyclical, even anti-capitalist, although the word “capitalism” does not appear”.

Löwy commits a sad mistake here. The Pope defends capitalism over and over.

In July 2014, in the Vatican, he said to 500 businessmen of the International Christian Union of Business Executives: “the corporations must not exist only to earn money, though the money works to measure their functioning. The companies exists to serve… that is why we must urgently recover the social sense of financial and banking activity, with greater intelligence and imagination of businessmen” (1). Does anyone know of a company that does not exist to “earn money”, but to “serve”? Does anyone know a banker with “social sense”?

In May 2017, he told the workers of the Ilva plant in Genoa: “The businessman knows his workers, because he works alongside them and with them. Do not forget that the businessman is first and foremost a worker. He shares the weariness and the joy of work… A good businessman finds firing someone painful, and will avoid doing so if possible.” And criticizing speculators and mercenaries, he insisted: “When the economy is inhabited by businessmen, companies are friendly with the people and the poor” (2). Does anybody know a businessman that is “friendly with the people and the poor”?

And a few days ago, the newspaper La Nacion published: “Francis met with fifty oil businessmen, whom he asked to take care of the environment” (3). Does anyone know an oil capitalist that “takes care of the environment”? Please! We must not let him trick us: though he critiques neoliberal “excess”, the Pope works every day, not to defeat capitalism but for “social peace”, which means class conciliation for this naturally unfair system to continue, with partial reforms, fulfilling its reason to exist: exploiting the working class and looting the peoples of the world. That is why the Catholic theologist that interviews Löwy indulges in, woefully correctly, affirming that Löwy “does not agree with the idea that the religion is a bulwark of obscurantism, as Marx and Engels perceived it”.

On our side, always respecting freedom of worship, we still hold, like Marx and Engels did, that “religion is the opium of the masses”.

Coherently wrong, when speaking about the solution to capitalism, Löwy says that “if in the next historical period the left changes the correlation of forces, it will be because those activists -meaning the people of the pastorals, the base communities, the theologists- will play a very important role. Without them, nothing will happen”. We do not deny that maybe some of those sectors will play a role in the social struggle of a given country. But, apart from it being false that “without them, nothing will happen”, to “change the correlation of forces”, the left will have to battle in favour of the revolution and against those who promote pacts between classes like the Pope and the other religious leaderships.

The Pope is pro-patriarchy

As an informed man, Löwy does not ignore that this interview would be published in an Argentinian newspaper, a country in which we have the honor of being a bastion of the international feminist and LGBT wave. That is why it stands out that he omits any reference to the reactionary papal campaign against “gender ideology”.

But in the MST, Libre Diversidad y Juntas y a la Izquierda, we will never forget that Pope Francis called the equal marriage law a “nuclear bomb” that “destroys humanity”, that he called those who fight for the right to abortion “white glove nazis”, that he advised mothers and fathers of children that seem to be sexually diverse to “consult a psychologist” as if they were sick and that the last Vatican text on the family is called “Male and female, He created them”.

In his apology of the Pope, Löwy also “forgets” that Francis also neglected Jesuit priests against the repression of the last military coup, called for conciliation with the genocides and consciously protected, even assigning them positions of power in the Vatican, a great quantity of pedophile bishops and priests from several countries.

In 2020, boycotting the Pope’s visit

The head of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church already announced it: “Next year I would like to visit Argentina”. Surely the Curia, the government, the parties of the system and other political, trade union and social sectors are already preparing welcome galas and planning invitations to important events.

Well then; being coherent with our socialist and anti-clerical trajectory we will do exactly the opposite: an intense campaign of national agitation calling the youth, workers, women and LGBT activists to reject his visit and boycott his actions. As part of our political struggle against this capitalist and patriarchal system, we continue to demand the separation of the Church from the State, the annulment of all state subsidies to religious education and the trial and punishment of all abusive priests.

Pablo Vasco