WHAT IS RERUM NOVARUM?
As many of you know, I was born in Cuba and lived under the Socialist and Communist regime of Fidel Castro. While in primary school I remember being given a choice of learning to speak English or studying the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Vladimir Lenin. I chose the latter.
Believe me when I tell you that Socialism and Communism are the best forms of government. It makes sense... that is, on paper. But it doesn't work in real life with real people. You can't exert equality at the expense of others. I experienced it. First, the government nationalized all industries; My grandfather lost his business of 40 years. Then my family lost three homes they had saved money to purchase and rent out. After all, why should you own three homes and others had to rent? Fidel called it the "distribution of wealth". Churches were closed and praying became illegal in groups of more than two. This followed the forgiveness of student loans and education became free. Yet, those like my mother and father who paid their loans were ignored. I can go on and on, but needless to say, we immigrated to the United States.
I see so many similarities today in our country that it's scary. So where does the Catholic Church stand on this?
The writings of the Catholic Church teach against certain government policies such as Socialism in Rerum Novarum. Rerum Novarum is the economic and social doctrine of the Catholic Church. Its name means "of new things" and was written by the Catholic Church in response to the industrial revolution that was taking place in the 18th century, and the emergence of liberals and Marxist economic theories.
Written as an encyclical by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 it was considered extremely progressive. It urged Catholics to accept political institutions, such as parliaments and universal suffrage, to recognize sympathy for working people and excesses of capitalism. It justified moderate trade union action though vigorously denouncing socialism.
There were six elements to the Rerum Novarum. 1) Labor and capital must work together in cooperation. 2) It required dignity of work where managers should provide a decent life for workers and their families. 3) It required just wages and allowed workers associations. 4) It warned about the state's role in the workplace and the family. 5) Identified the need to protect and defend the poor. 6) Identified the right of private ownership of property.
What was clear, and is still valid today, was the concept that Pope Leo XIII had of socialism manipulating the poor into believing that total government control and dependency was the solution to the problems of the poor. To remedy these wrongs the socialists highlight the poor man’s envy of the rich by striving to do away with private property and blaming the middle and upper class for the problems of the poor. It also contended that in socialism individual possessions should become the common property of all, and be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. Thus, socialism would deprive the worker of the hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of better his condition in life. The fact that God gave the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race can in no way be a bar to owning of private property.
Pope Leo XIII further says that one certain way of undermining the love of God for its children was the Socialist notion that class is naturally hostile to class and that the wealthy and the workers are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. The contrary is true. Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Agreement results in the beauty of good order, and what better service is the Christian institution in drawing the wealthy and the working class together by reminding each of its duties to the other, especially of the obligations of justice? He warned the wealthy that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the needy for the sake of gain, and to gather one's profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine.
What about the church today? In 2014 Pope Francis in part said, "There is no worse material poverty than one of the dignities of work. Youth unemployment, informality, and the lack of labor rights are not inevitable; they are the result of a previous social option, of an economic system that puts profit above man."
In a globalized world where laborers are increasingly viewed as replaceable commodities and valued only as having a productive value, how does the church remind us to be guided by the principles of personality, and to see workers first and foremost as human beings?