A RECENT front page story of the New York Times stated off with the quiet meeting Pope Francis had – early in his papacy – with Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez. Good grief no, he is not part of the controversial showbiz clan, the Pinoy Kardashians. He is the founder of Liberation Theology, a field which our local Gutierrezes would not stray into (no fame and money there, only great sacrifice ).
Gustavo Gutierrez’s writings and teachings were the inspiration of the many Filipino priests and church workers who went underground during the martial law years (Jalandoni, Balweg et al.) and the priests (though fewer) who are still doing that today. No priest, living or dead, has done more to do an incisive biblical analysis of poverty – and espouse radical changes based on the analysis – than Gutierrez .
Obscured during the papacies of John Paul and Benedict, Gutierrez, plus his life’s work and teachings, were lifted overnight out the archives after that meeting with Pope Francis .
That story would have to segue (and it had, indeed, segued) into the other significant initiative of Pope Francis – untying the knot to speed up the beatification of martyred El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero. The archbishop was an outspoken critic of El Salvador’s running right-wing junta when he was assassinated on March 24 , 1980.
A few days back, on May 23, Romero ( who had been unofficially sainted by El Salvadorians on their own initiative even before the formal process of canonization), was beatified as a martyr of the Church and as a saint-to-be.
Pope Francis is not only debunking long-held doctrines of capitalism such as faith in the efficiency of the markets and trickle-down growth. He has been taking vigorous steps to align the Church with personalities identified with working for the poor and denouncing state-sponsored atrocities.
On the economic front, a similar effort to revive the most significant work on capital and labor that has been obscured in the age of self-aggrandizing selfies, is underway.
In a provocative, extensive work on capitalism and inequality now, French economist Thomas Pikkety has chosen to give it the title “ Capital in the Twenty First Century.” That was a conscious and deliberate effort to raise the work of Karl Marx ‘s Das Kapital from dust-filled bookshelves into the mainstream of economic debate. The 20th century saw revolutionary movements from across the globe gain power on the back of Marx’s writings and critique of society, his condemnation of capitalist societies, and the utopian promise of governments led by the ploretariat.
The 21st century all but dumped Marx into the dustbin of history.
The 21st century saw the annihilation of Marx and the operative word “struggle,” by Facebook and Twitter. The age of selfies became the natural anti-thesis (to use a Marxian phrase ) to global solidarity of the fist-clenched, fiery working class upending the established orders to seize state power. In an age of self-gratification , Marx has no use. The Internationale can’t be livestreamed and does not fall into the category of acceptable music. Thanks to Pikkety, however, Marx and his work on the inherent flaws of capitalism, and its built-in assault on the interest of the working class, has been made part of the global conversation on inequality anew.
As to the word “struggle,” if there is a mass struggle going on today, it is the hordes with smart phones that undergo extreme exertion for them to take the best view of themselves for instant posting, or those struggling with the proper grammar and language for their tweets — on where they have eaten or peed.
Which leads us into the inevitable question. What is meant by the two efforts?
We are quite sure on what the two efforts do not intend to do. There is neither intent nor purpose to raise from the dead the revolutionary movements of the 20th century, the resurrection of towering figures such as Lenin, Mao and Fidel, who all led successful revolutionary movements on behalf of Marx teachings and the liberation of the working class. The futility of a Marxist armed struggle has its Exhibit A in the Philippine Left, which is probably last struggles of its kind in the modern world.
From their Vatican and Paris perches, Pope Francis and Thomas Pikkety have no vision of a world that would raise the ghosts of Stalin and the gulags and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. And bizarre spawns such as Pol Pot for that matter.
The agenda, as in Pikkety’s case, is for governments to end the era of reckless capitalism, low taxes for the wealthy and the reluctance to engage in some form of effective redistribution policies He argues that bold and radical reforms are the only deterrents to the developed world’s inevitable march to a dreaded surge of patrimonial wealth and Gilded Age level of inequality.
Pope Francis wants the Church to return to its roots, a church for the poor, the weak, the oppressed and the persecuted. The Church, precisely, of Romero and Gutierrez. But through radical reforms that would come from the political mainstream.
While they may not fully succeed, Thomas Pikkety, at the very least, has made inequality and economic injustice part of the global conversation. Pope Francis has lifted from obscurity, the church personalities most identified with social and economic justice For now, in this age of selfies and the Kardashians, that is enough.