A group of Chilean priests met in April 1971 and held a workshop on the advisability of “Christian participation in the task of developing and implementing socialism in Chile.” Their declaration had profound repercussions in various circles.*
We are a group of eighty priests who live and work with working class people. We came together to analyze the present situation of Chile as it starts to develop and implement socialism.
The working class is still subject to exploitation and its attendant conditions, i.e. malnutrition, lack of housing, unemployment, and limited possibilities for further education and cultural development. The cause of this situation is specific and clear. It is the capitalist system, resulting from a domination by foreign imperialism and maintained by the ruling classes in this country.
This system is characterized by private ownership of the means of production and by the ever-growing inequality in the distribution of income. It turns the worker into a mere cog in the production system, stimulates an irrational distribution of economic resources, and causes an improper transfer of surplus goods to foreign lands. The result is stagnation, which prevents our country from escaping its situation of underdevelopment.
Such a situation cannot be tolerated any longer. It is clear to us that the working masses found great hope in the accession of the People’s Government to power and in this respect they were not mistaken.
Socialism, which is characterized by social appropriation of the means of production, paves the way for a new economy which makes possible autonomous development at a more accelerated pace and which overcomes the division of society into antagonistic classes. But socialism is not just a new economy. It should also generate new values which will pave the way for a society that evinces more fellowship and brotherhood. In this society the worker will shoulder his proper role with new dignity.
We feel committed to the process that is now underway and we want to contribute to its success. The underlying reason for our commitment is our faith in Jesus Christ, which takes on a depth and vitality and concrete shape in accordance with historical circumstances. To be a Christian is to be in solidarity, in fellowship, with other human beings. And at this moment in Chile fellowship means participation in the historical project that its people have set for themselves.
As Christians we do not see any incompatibility between Christianity and socialism. Quite the contrary. As the Cardinal of Santiago said last November: “There are more evangelical values in socialism than there are in capitalism.” The fact is that socialism offers new hope that man can be more complete, and hence more evangelical; i.e. more conformed to Jesus Christ, who came to liberate us from any and every sort of bondage.
Thus it is necessary to destroy the prejudice and mistrust that exists between Christians and Marxists.
To Marxists we say that authentic religion is not the opiate of the people. it is, on the contrary, a liberating stimulus to revivify and renew the world constantly. To Christians we offer a reminder that our God committed himself personally to the history of human beings. And we say that at this present moment loving one’s neighbor basically means struggling to make this world resemble as closely as possible the future world that we hope for and that we are already in the process of constructing.
We are not unaware of the difficulties and the suspicions on both sides. In large measure they have been caused by past historical circumstances that no longer prevail in Chile today. There is a long road ahead for both Christians and Marxists. But the evolution that has taken place in Christian and Marxist circles permits them to engage in a joint effort on behalf of the historical project that the country has set for itself.
This collaboration will be facilitated to the extent that two things are done: (1) to the extent that Marxism presents itself more and more as an instrument for analysing and transforming society; (2) to the extent that we Christians proceed to purify our faith of everything that prevents us from shouldering real and effective commitment.
Hence we support the measures aimed at social appropriation of the means of production: e.g.the nationalization of mineral resources, the socialization of banks and monopoly industries, the expansion and acceleration of agrarian reform, and so forth.
We feel that much sacrifice will be entailed in the implementation of socialism, that it will involve a constructive and united effort if we are to overcome our underdevelopment and to create a new society. Obviously enough this will provoke strong resistance from those who will be deprived of their special privileges. Hence the mobilization of the people is absolutely necessary. With some concern we note that this mobilization has not been achieved as had been hoped.
We also believe that it is indispensable to lay the foundations for the creation of a new culture. this new culture must not be the mirror image of capitalist concerns and interests: it must be the real-life expression of the genuine values of our people. Only then can we see the emergence of the New Man, who will create a societal life that is truly one of fellowship and solidarity.
We note that there are large groups of workers in favor of the changes taking place and who are benefiting from them, but who are not actively involving themselves in the process that has already been initiated. The union of all workers, whatever their party loyalty may be, is crucial at this juncture. our country is being offered a unique opportunity to replace the existing system of dependent capitalism and to promote the cause of the laboring class throughout Latin America.
Lack of class consciousness among these workers is being encouraged and fostered by the ruling groups, primarily through the communications media and party activities. they are inculcating suspicions and fears, which ultimately lead to resistance and passivity.
We must recognize and admit that not everything being done is necessarily positive and effective. But at the same time we insist that criticism should be formulated from within the revolutionary process, not from outside it.
It is a time full of risk, but also a time full of hope. We priests, like each and every Christian, must do what we can to make our own modest contribution. That is why we have come together to reflect and to prepare ourselves in this workshop on the participation of Christians in the implementation of socialism.
Santiago de Chile
April 16, 1971
Sergio Torres (Talca)
Ignacio Pujadas (Valparaíso)
Pierre Dubois (Coronel)
*John Eagleson (ed.) Christians and Socialism: Documentation of the Christians For Socialism Movement in Latin America trans. John Drury (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1975) 1-6.