Editor's Space

Defending Communism—by Attacking Dorothy Day

Busts statues of Vladimir Lenin and Klement Gottwald in a depository. (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

Late last month, one of my favorite Catholic publications, America magazine, published an article by Dean Dettloff titled “The Catholic Case for Communism.”

Of course, it is always noteworthy when a Catholic media outfit publishes a defense of an ideology whose followers killed more than 100 million people in 75 years. Usually that number would be a red flag, but it didn’t stop America.

America magazine has the right to publish anything it thinks is worth reading —even if it is “the Catholic case for” an ideology that used to lead to more Christians becoming martyrs in a year than all those Roman emperors caused in the first three centuries of Christianity.

We also know that communism met abject failure in each country where it was implemented. Do you know of any communist country where the government wasn’t killing people trying to escape from the workers’ paradise?

In particular, Korea and Germany, two countries divided for decades in two halves, with capitalism on one side and communism on the other, gave us a good idea of the results you can expect from each system.

At the end, the countries of Eastern Europe where communism was imposed by Soviet tanks were able to remove the Russian colonial yoke and the criminal regimes of the local Soviet satraps. And in Russia and China — the countries where communism was home-grown — the leaders themselves realized the system wasn’t viable and opted for a capitalist economy.

You could say that practically everyone who ever tried communism eventually realized that it was a criminal, inefficient enterprise. But I still think America magazine should publish whatever it considers edifying for its readership, of which I am a faithful member.

Of course, the reader has the right to expect good articles — well-argued, consistent. And that is the problem with Dettloff’s piece. You will never know what he is making the case for. What does he mean by “communism”? The communist regimes of the 20th century? Marx’s theories? Some nice communist sympathizers he has met? The subject of his article constantly changes without explanation.

He seems to ignore that the Communist Party always defended democracy when it was the opposition, but that the party invariably became a totalitarian machine once in power. Defending a communist regime by citing the niceness of its sympathizers in a democratic society is naïve or disengenous.

That he characterizes the destruction of the church and persecution of Christians under the communist regimes of the 20th century as a “complicated relationship” should fall under the category of gallows humor.

Dorothy Day as a Foil

There’s not enough space here to list all that is wrong with his article, but we should mention Dettloff’s accusations against Dorothy Day. He says that “Day needlessly perpetuated two other prejudices against communism. First, she said that under all the goodness that draws people to communism, the movement is, in the final analysis, a program ‘with the distinct view of tearing down the church.’”

The second Dorothy Day ‘sin,’ according to Dettloff, is her view that “young people who follow the goodness in their hearts that may lead them to communism are not fully aware of what it is they are participating in.”

You would think that after criticizing Dorothy Day, Dettloff would offer the reader some evidence of her errors, but he failed to list the communist regimes that didn’t try to tear down the church — and I would love to see that list — or a valid counter-argument about the naivete of some young communist sympathizers. It is a gratuitous attack that went on the page without supporting evidence.

No one needs an explanation about why Dorothy Day was right when she said that Communists were aiming to tear down the church — we have a century of persecution to prove it. But it is ironic that Dettloff himself gives us evidence about the accuracy of the second assertion by Dorothy Day he criticizes.

Dettloff writes: “Some of the standard proposals in the programs of communist parties include things like providing free health care, abolishing private profit from renting property and the creation of truly democratic institutions in which politicians are not millionaires and are subject to recall.”

Doesn’t Dettloff know that those have always been the promises of the Communist parties while they’re the opposition? Doesn’t he know that after taking power, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il-sung and a long list of other Communist sociopaths didn’t exactly build “truly democratic institutions” in their countries?

Dettloff himself seems to be one of those young people “who follow the goodness in their hearts that may lead them to communism” but “are not fully aware of what it is they are participating in.” 

Actually, Dorothy Day understood the nature of communism before Mao or Pol Pot had killed the first of the many million people they ended up assassinating. She knew it before the invasions and subjugation of Eastern Europe. In “From Union Square to Rome,” she wrote:

“I will not deny that often the Communist more truly loves his brother, the poor and oppressed, than many so-called Christians. But, when in word and deed the Communist incites brother to kill brother, one class to hate and destroy other classes, then I cannot feel that his love is true. He is loving his friend, but not his enemy, who is also his brother. There is no brotherhood of man there, and there can be none without the Fatherhood of God.

“Men are being tortured today in Soviet Russia. They are being jailed, their wives and children are being tortured, they are being put to death. Is this brotherly love? No, I grew not to believe in the brotherly love of the Communist. Human nature being what it is, I can only believe that men are capable of much goodness, through Christ who took upon Himself our human nature and exalted it.”

More than 80 years later, after history has proved Dorothy Day right again and again, Dettloff still seems to be unaware of the evil nature of the ideology he tries to defend. It is a pity that he does it by attacking Dorothy Day instead of providing solid evidence to support his opinions.

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