Tradinista!

There’s a new group of young Catholics called the Tradinista Collective that has been getting a lot of attention lately, and some criticism. This old codger decided to take a look to see what he could make of it, and will share some observations here.

When I started writing this article I thought I was going to talk about yet another misuse of the term “socialism.” The “old codger” epithet that I have applied to myself is pertinent, because I am beginning to think that there is something about the use of the word “socialist” that appeals to some young Catholics in a way that I just can’t understand. When I hear the word “socialist,” I think about something that has time and again been condemned by the popes, and it brings to my mind such luminaries as Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. I think about the abolition of private property, or, as they say, abolition of private ownership of the means of production.

Now the Tradinista Collective has put out a manifesto, named, appropriately, A Tradinista! manifesto. [1] The exclamation point and the lower case “m” in manifesto isn’t a typographical error. The group identifies itself therein as “a small party of young Christian socialists committed to traditional orthodoxy, to a politics of virtue and the common good, and to the destruction of capitalism, and its replacement by a truly social political economy.”

There’s that word again: “socialist.” Someone like me looks at that and expects that he is about to read about how the abolition of private property is going to somehow bring about a society consistent with Christian principles. Some people might just stop reading. But if you go on to read their 20 point program, you’ll see things like this:

“Private property is a basic feature of human society; nevertheless, the right to property is not unconditional, and ownership is justified only if it serves the common good. Complementing private property should be a combination of a new commons (knowledge, land) and widely-democratized productive property, and the polity must ensure that private ownership, unlike in its bourgeois form, is not used in exploitative ways.”

That reminds me of paragraph 177 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable: ‘On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.’ The principle of the universal destination of goods is an affirmation both of God’s full and perennial lordship over every reality and of the requirement that the goods of creation remain ever destined to the development of the whole person and of all humanity. This principle is not opposed to the right to private property but indicates the need to regulate it. Private property, in fact, regardless of the concrete forms of the regulations and juridical norms relative to it, is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means.” [2]

These two expressions seem to me, as they say, probably close enough for government work. But it sure isn’t socialism if that word has any meaning at all. What kind of socialism recognizes that private property is a basic feature of human society?

So, reading that I thought, “Here we go again. Someone is going to use the word ‘socialist’ in a way that can only serve to confuse people.” I don’t know how many points that gets you among people in the intelligentsia, but it sure isn’t a way to get a lot of folks to listen to you in the United States.

But then I read this in their manifesto:

“Centralized and monopolized private ownership of means of production must give way to control by the political community. At the same time, the polity should not directly run small- or mid-sized enterprises, leaving these to be owned and managed – as far as possible – on a worker-cooperative basis. More equitable and non-exploitative work relations within firms will result.”

Well, now, if I read that correctly, that means that they want to assert public control over some of our major industries. There’s no problem with worker cooperatives; that’s really the opposite of socialism, since private ownership of the means of production aren’t done away with, just spread out more widely. But a takeover of big business by the political community? That’s socialism folks, in the classic sense, and it’s exactly what the popes have uniformly condemned.

Big business can be a problem, I agree. But the way you deal with monopolies is to have strong antitrust laws so you can break them up. In fact, we need even stronger antitrust laws so that oligopolies can be broken up too. The answer isn’t to turn them into state enterprises.

The truth is, I think that the Tradinista Collective really does have its heart in the right place. They seem quite sincere about their religion, and it’s hard to get too upset with a group that is concerned about both the poor and the victims of abortion, as they say in their manifesto. But they’re crossing a line with this idea of socializing our major industries, and I think they really need to take a look at that.

Louis Rose