The Catholic Worker and Other Revolutionaries in New York
Christian Communism is a theological and political theory stating that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. It agrees with the economic and existential aspects of Marxist theory: Capitalism exploits the working class by extracting surplus value from the workers in the form of profits, and wage-labor is a tool of human alienation promoting arbitrary and unjust authority. It also shares some of the political goals of Marxists, primarily that capitalism should be replaced with socialism as a step toward full communism in the future.
Given communism's strict anti-religious policies insisted upon by its theorists — Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and others — and implemented in communist nations — Soviet Union (and the rest of the Warsaw Pact to a lesser extent), People's Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea — this doesn't strike me as a good alliance for a religious movement.
However, Christian Communists insist that the Bible shows that Jesus taught Communism and his apostles practiced it. They emphasize The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2 and Chapter 4, as well as passages from the Gospels: Luke 1:49-53, the metaphor of the camel passing through the eye of a needle in Matthew 19:16-26 (also described in Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-27), and Jesus' criticism of money changers as thieves in Matthew 21:12-14, Mark 11:15, and John 2:14-16, and Jesus' account of the Last Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46.
I don't think that these passages advocate full Marxist style communism. But I think they certainly debunk the wealth-focused "ministry" of many American televangelists.
Leo Tolstoy, Лев Николаевич Толстой in Russian and another example of the Лев—Leo(n) transition, became a fervent Christian and anarcho-pacifist. The Толстовцы or Tolstovtsy were a small Christian anarchist group that worked to spread Tolstoy's religious teachings on pacifism. His book The Kingdom of God is Within You influenced Mahatma Gandhi, who set up the cooperative colony of Tolstoy Farm near Johnnesburg, South Africa. He and Tolstoy exchanged letters in 1909 and 1910, and the last letter Tolstoy wrote before his death in 1910 was to Gandhi. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on anarchism said:
Tolstoy wrote an essay "On Anarchy" in 1900, saying:
The Catholic Worker Movement
The Catholic Worker Movement was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York in 1933. The Catholic Worker Movement considers itself to be a Christian anarchist movement. All authority comes from God. The state has chosen to distance itself from Christian perfection and therefore has forfeited its ultimate authority over the citizens.
The Catholic Worker Movement communities provide social services focusing on hospitality to those on the margins of society. It campaigns for nonviolence and actively opposes both war and the unequal distribution of wealth.
Co-founder Maurin described the movement's beliefs as:
- Gentle personalization of traditional Catholicism.
- Personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother.
- Daily practice of the Works of Mercy.
- Houses of Hospitality for the immediate relief of those who are in need.
- Establishment of Farming Communes where each person works according to his ability and receives according to his need. [as Marx wrote]
- Creating a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new. [as described in the preamble to the constitution of the International Workers of the World]
The Catholic Worker Movement began with the establishment of the Catholic Worker newspaper. That soon led to a "house of hospitality" in the slum of the Lower East Side.
There were more than 30 independent but affiliated Catholic Worker communities by 1941. The movement now has over 213 local communities.
The "Joseph House" is at 36 East 1st Street, near 2nd Avenue in the East Village just north of the Lower East Side to use today's labels and boundaries for neighborhoods. It's the facility you see here with the blue doors and sign.
The Catholic Worker was first published on May 1st, 1933. 2,500 copies were printed of the first edition. Circulation of the monthly paper grew to 25,000 within a few months, and by 1936 it had reached 150,000. The price per issue has always been $0.01, and a year's subscription is $0.25. It has now scaled back to seven issues per year.
The "Mary House" is at 55 East 3rd Street. It's a red brick four-story building with a more subtle sign.
Dorothy Day, the movement's co-founder, was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1897. Her father, a sports writer specializing in horse racing, took a position with a San Francisco newspaper and the family moved there in 1904.
Two year later the 1906 earthquake largely destroyed the city of San Francisco, including the newpaper's facilities. The family then moved to Chicago.
Day attended the University of Illinois for two years starting in 1914. She left the university and moved to New York City in 1916.
She lived on the Lower East Side and worked at several Socialist publications including The Liberator, The Masses, and The Call. She maintained a love affair with the radical writer Mike Gold for several years. In 1920 or 1921 she married Berkeley Tobey in a civil ceremony, having just ended an unhappy love affair with Lionel Moise and having an abortion.
The Masses was published monthly from 1911 until 1917, when federal prosecutors filed charges against its editors for conspiring to obstruct military conscription. The Liberator and The New Masses followed it. Some editions are available on line.
She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel and sold the movie rights for $2,500. This let her buy a beach cottage on Staten Island, where she found a new lover, Forster Batterham, a biologist and activist. After about four years of this, including the birth of a daughter, Day's increasing religiousity drove the anti-religious Batterham away.
She accepted a job writing film dialogue for Pathé Motion Pictures and moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1929. The stock market crashed just a few months later and she lost that job, returning to New York. She supported herself and her daughter by writing a gardening column for the Staten Island Advance and feature articles and book reviews for several Catholic publications.
In 1932 she met Peter Maurin, who introduced her to the writings of the Church Fathers and papal documents on social matters. The following May Day, the first issue of the Catholic Worker was published.
The Spanish Civil War in 1935 had the dictator Franco, backed by the Catholic Church, fighting against the Republican forces, led by atheist and anticlerical radicals and communists. Day took the Republican side, and the Catholic Worker circulation fell from 150,000 to 30,000 as many Catholic churches, school, and hospitals refused to distribute it.
After the U.S. declaration of war on the Axis powers in December, 1941, Day again called for pacifism, non-cooperation with the Allied nations, tearing down the patriotic posters and putting the flags away. The Catholic Worker circulation had built back up to 75,000 after the Spanish Civil War dip, but this led to another circulation crash. She went on to praise Fidel Castro in 1960, "Far better to revolt violently than to do nothing about the poor destitute," and described Ho Chi Minh in 1970 as "a man of vision, as a patriot, a rebel against foreign invaders."
She died at "Mary House" in New York in 1980.
In 2000 Pope John Paul II granted permission to open the cause for her sainthood, allowing her to be called "Servant of God".
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