Pope Francis offered the only possible response to his being accused of being a Marxist. First, that the “Marxist ideology is wrong.” (How could an official of the Catholic Church, much less the Bishop of Rome, assert otherwise?) And then:
“But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
That really is the only way to respond to the kinds of outrageous insults right-wing commentators and business pundits have hurled at him after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium.
And Priyamvada Gopal gets it:
The use of “Marxist” as a slur – along with kindred terms such as “socialist” and “communist” – is not a uniquely American phenomenon but is most familiar to us from the era of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, established in 1938 and, later, Joseph McCarthy’s committee.
In that context, and during the “red scares” which followed it during the cold war, these were appellations used to identify and punish any criticism of capitalism, however sympathetic or merely reformist. Indeed, any dissent from mainstream dogma was “un-American”.
As we all know, in the United States, any criticism of individual capitalists or capitalism as an economic and social system still is considered to be associated with Marxism or communism, long after the Fall of the Wall.
But I do need to correct Gopal’s rendering of the long tradition of American anticommunism on one point: the first “red scare” wasn’t in 1918 but earlier, in the nineteenth century, in response to the upsurge of union organizing and the related hunger demonstrations and then in reaction to the Paris Commune.
News sources, especially in America, were becoming increasingly worried about the rise of what they perceived as a Communist movement in Paris. This ‘red fear’ was based on both fascination and anxiety over the ideology. Because of the Commune’s close ties with labor unions, the International Working Men’s Association, socialists, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Commune thus “further reinforced the bourgeois notion of class war,” as Gay Gullickson notes. “Journalists regularly referred to the ‘Reds’ in Paris and used ‘communist’ as a synonym for ‘communard’….” Some journalists even used all three terms interchangeably. Both American newspapers and periodicals followed a similar path in criticizing the Commune and exposing it to the rest of the world. One historian notes that, “[t]he chorus of abuse in the American press quickly mounted as the Commune unfolded, and after its destruction it was frequently used to epitomize all the horrors of ‘communist’ philosophy….The Commune [brought] out [people’s] worst anxieties about the family, religion, property, and social order.” The Paris Commune became the great fear of anti-Communist Americans who saw the actions of the working class in Europe as a major threat.
So, yes, the “red menace” attacks on the pope have a long lineage in the United States, which stretch back to the nineteenth century—and have clearly outlasted the Cold War.