In the words of Bob Marley, we are in a "war for America." World economic revolution has created a political, moral, and spiritual crisis. Jobs are disappearing, living standards are plummeting, and poverty is spreading. As the government abandons the poor to the tender mercies of the global marketplace, it forces us to decide who we are as a people. Are we the country of our ancestors, who twice rose up in revolutions to right injustice? Or will we stand by while soulless corporations violently loot our own people and others?
As spiritual and religious leaders we have no choice. Our Creator has commanded us to take a stand against exploitation and immorality. But effective resistance requires vision and program. Most of us agree we need to replace the current government -- a government by and for corporations -- with one by and for the people, and establish an economy based on human need, not private profit. Such a system is generally called communism.
The problem in America is that for the last 60 years the word "communism" has been at the center of a massive Cold War propaganda struggle. It has been stripped of its original, literal meaning and loaded down with ideological baggage. Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, and other 20th century religious revolutionaries avoided the word communism because it was otherwise impossible to maneuver outside the established ideological camps. But now, the Cold War is over, and workers who have been replaced by computers and robots do not have funds for food, clothing, housing, and health care. Communism today is a practical question of how to distribute these life's necessities to millions of Americans.
This makes it possible and necessary for revolutionaries to set aside ideology and start educating our people on the true meaning of the word communism.
According to historians, all property was originally held in common, and has been for most of human history. The Bible recognizes and sanctions this as God's plan (Psalm 24, Leviticus 25). Where private property is affirmed in the Bible, it is only in certain situations on the condition that it facilitates the livelihood of the people. Where private property is used to exploit, exclude, or enslave -- as it most frequently has been -- it is unequivocally condemned.
The word "private" reflects this history of abuse. It is derived from the Latin word "privare," meaning to separate or take away. It has the same root as the words deprive, privation, and deprivation. These words accurately describe the origins of private property: it was forcibly taken from others and then used to subjugate them. Owners denied people the means to livelihood except on terms that robbed them of the fruits of their labor. This was done crudely and primitively in slave and feudal societies. Capitalism perfected it and expanded it into a global system.
"Deprivation" is also the best description of the effects of corporate plunder in our communities today.
The word "communism," on the other hand, comes from the Latin word "communis," an adjective meaning "in common, public, general, shared by all or many." It has the same root as common, commonwealth, communion, and community. Especially Christians have always held up these concepts as positive and beneficial. In fact, the related Greek word "koinonia" has a special place in the New Testament and in Christian tradition. Koinonia is usually translated to mean fellowship or communion, and is derived from the word "koinos," meaning common. In the Bible it is used to express the mutual relationship of the early Christians with Christ and with each other. It first appears in the Bible in Acts 2 to describe the fellowship of the believers who "had everything in common" and "gave to anyone as he or she had need."
Paul described the koinonia or communism in the Christian community as an integral part of its relationship with Christ, expressed in the celebration of the Eucharist. Koinonia was not only a sharing of resources but was inseparable from the worship of the living God.
It is time for practical revolutionaries to separate and reclaim "communism" from the ideological straitjackets of the past period. For Christians, communism is a Biblical and holy concept that describes the beloved community. It is the moral and spiritual heart of our movement and our heritage, the foundation of our faith. It does not serve us to deny it or reject it because we may disagree with one or another of its modern forms. The question is to understand its essence and create a form that works for the task at hand.
Above all, we should not allow our attitude toward communism to be determined by wicked propagandists who have no concern for justice for the poor. Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.