Saturday, February 15, 2014

The French Model of Pro-Life Socialism

      Maurice Thorez, Jeannette Vermeersch and family

A recent article in The New Yorker regarding the rising abortion rate for poor women and women of color despite an overall decline of the U.S. abortion rate is a strong reminder of not only the growing class divide in the United States, but also the essentially anti-working class nature of abortion itself. While pro-choice figures will certainly discuss the need for better access to contraception, I doubt many prominent voices in the mainstream media will call for an end to the underlying economic problems that cause low-income women to seek abortions in the first place.
The anti-capitalist pro-life position receives little attention in the United States. France, on the other hand, has had a more interesting history of combining unabashedly socialist economics with strong pro-life positions. The French Communist Party once had a strong pro-life platform that not only included opposition to abortion and contraception as weapons aimed at the throat of the working class, but also supported positive policies such as generous supplemental salaries for the fathers of large families. More recently,  the French organization Socialistes Pour la Vie, held a march with signs baring slogans such as “Protect the Workers of Tomorrow” and "Right to Housing, Right to Work, Right to Life.”
The persistence of pro-life socialism in France is likely a product of the failure of Social Darwinism and eugenics in that country. As the French scholar Andr√© Pichot notes:
"France, as we have said, never had any specifically eugenic legislation, nor even a very strong eugenic movement. What is sometimes called eugenics in France is more properly described as public health policy. To speak of eugenics in this case is a play on words: etymologically, 'eugenics' simply means the science of good births, and in France these good births were seen as resulting from the health of the pregnant woman, conditions of childbirth and breast-feeding, rather than from selectionist measures to sterilize individuals deemed genetically incorrect. This particular aspect of French 'eugenics' was chiefly due to the influence of Pasteur and Lamarck, and no doubt also to Catholicism. France was strongly attached to the work of Pasteur, a national hero, and long remained reticent towards Darwinism, preferring the work of Lamarck. It is good form nowadays to claim that this held back the development of biology and genetics in our country (which remains to be proved), but it at least had the benefit of sparing us eugenic folly." (Pichot 2009: 161).
A "French" model of pro-life activism would therefore combine a reverence for the life of the unborn along with a public health platform focused on improving the health of pregnant women and their children. This platform is opposed to the selectionist eugenics that heavily influenced the pro-abortion movement in the United States through such malignant figures as Margaret Sanger.  

The socialist element would be similar to that advocated by former French Communist Part leader Maurice Thorez and his wife Jeannette Vermeersch and would include full employment, the nationalization of key industries, and supplemental salaries for the fathers of large families. A pro-life movement that holds unborn life sacred while promising economic reform measures designed to end unemployment and poverty would effectively destroy the argument that abortion is necessary for the welfare of poor women.


Pichot, Andr√©. The Pure Society: From Darwin to Hitler (New York: Verso, 2009).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chinese Workers and their Share of National Income

In an excellent article at Monthly Review, Hao Qi discusses the labor share question in China. The weakening of the power of the Chinese working class during the period of the transition to capitalism can be observed in the decline of labor's share of the national income. Today, however, workers' struggles for higher wages and better living conditions are becoming more common, pointing to possible changes in the Chinese economy. Hao Qi's article is very interesting and I strongly suggest giving it a read.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Eric Draitser has a fine article on the far-right elements of the Ukrainian opposition and the rise of the far right across Europe generally. A must read for sure.

Edit: Neil Clark also has a great piece on the subject of the Ukrainian far-right, here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eugenics and Biological Determinism: Then and Now

Jeffrey St. Clair discusses the shameful history of the American eugenics movement in his recent piece in CounterPunch. Also, Pankaj Mehta discusses the reemergence of biological determinism and Social Darwinism in recent decades as a result of certain political interpretations of modern genetic science. Both articles are timely and essential reading.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Crisis of Neo-Americanism

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly has an excellent article regarding more negative reactions to Pope Francis' calls for social justice. Apparently Home Depot founder Ken Langone and the American Enterprise Institute are now lecturing the Holy Father on his failure to understand that American capitalism is exceptional and good while the Pope's experiences in Argentina, a country where free enterprise is supposedly "a combination of socialism and crony capitalism," give him the wrong impression about capitalism as a whole. And hey, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute points out, Pope Francis is "not an economist and not an American," so what does he know?

We are clearly witnessing a crisis moment for the conservative wing of neo-Americanism (hat tip to the incomparable David Lindsay for the excellent term) as it is becoming harder and harder to dilute, twist, ignore, or otherwise reject papal critiques of  capitalism while still claiming the mantle of Catholic orthodoxy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The One Percent Way of War

Professor Andrew J. Bacevich discusses how America's economic one percent relates to the one percent of Americans who actually shoulder the burden of endless foreign wars. Professor Bacevich correctly links the exploitation of American workers by the economic elite to the exploitation of American soldiers who are called upon to shoulder the entire burden of America's overseas military adventures. Both forms of exploitation continue without much opposition because of the apathy and inactivity of most of the American population. A must read.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bounds Not Lawfully To Be Overstepped

In an interesting piece in The Atlantic, Megan Garber discusses the new plan to have the U.S. Post Office deliver Amazon packages on Sundays. Ms. Garber also describes how an alliance of churches and labor unions ended Sunday delivery in 1912. While many people probably don't care much about this development, I find it rather disturbing.

Christian religious observance is being undermined by commercialism. Taking just one example, more people are working on Christmas than ever before. While I understand the need for health and emergency staff  to work on holidays (of course, with extra compensation), I am shocked by how many non-essential services such as restaurants and  stores are open during the holidays. And yes, it is often the case that those who must work on the holidays are in low-paying service jobs.

The decline in the observance of holidays as days of rest from paid labor is part of capitalism's tendency to subject all of human life to economic calculation and the demands of capital. When Christianity was the dominant cultural force in Europe during the Middle Ages, peasants and artisans actually had ample holiday time. Workers sometimes had as much as one-third of the year off.  Medieval farmers and artisans had more vacation time than their modern counterparts.

Despite predictions that leisure time would increase in advanced societies, Americans and Western Europeans are seeing their leisure time scaled back under neoliberalism. The eight-hour workday and other victories won by the labor movement are being demolished while workers are harangued by capitalists and their lackeys in the government and media about the need to stay competitive in the global economy.

Amintore Fanfani, in his seminal work Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism, described how the capitalist state reduced the influence of Christianity and other forces that might impede the rationalization of society along capitalist lines. As Fanfani wrote:
"The one endeavor of capitalism has been to emancipate itself from ideas, or institutions based upon ideas, that impeded the economic rationalization of life." (Fanfani 1934: 92).
Interestingly, Fanfani goes on to described the Soviet Union as the final realization of capitalist civilization, writing:
"It may seem a paradox, but the most technically perfect economic realization of capitalistic civilization is the Soviet system, in which all private and public efforts have only one end: the economic rationalization of the whole of life, to the point of abolishing private property and the family and of attempting the destruction of all religious ideals that might threaten such materialistic rationalization. Russia has carried the rationalizing experiment of capitalism to its logical conclusion." (Fanfani 1934: 92).
In opposition to both capitalism and communism, Fanfani presents the Church as the entity that has, throughout history, sought to protect society from domination by purely economic forces.
"In the Middle Ages, by supporting the intervention of public bodies in economic life as a check to individual activity and to defend the interests of society as a whole; in our own time, by calling for State intervention for the same reasons, the Church has remained faithful to her anti-capitalistic ethics. Both during the predominance of the medieval guild system, and during that of capitalism, the Church, and those Catholics that listened to her voice, set or sought to set bounds not lawfully to be overstepped to the course of economic life — even at the cost of a sacrifice of mechanical and technical progress, which in the Catholic conception of society, has never been identical with civilization."(Fanfani 1934: 126). 
Thus, we can see that sacrificing the leisure time of workers to the demands of the capitalist market is antithetical to the Catholic conception of society, which places certain non-economic values above purely economic ones, even if it may reduce competitiveness or technical progress or some other material aspect of life. From a Catholic perspective, those who insist on market fundamentalism are making the same mistake as followers of Marxist communism. This mistake is the reduction of all politics, and indeed all of human life, to economics.

Therefore, we should not be surprised when Pope Francis discusses the need for workers to have plenty of leisure time, a sentiment also shared by his immediate predecessor.  It is not a coincidence that the decline of Christian influence in the West has led to an erosion of working conditions for Western workers. Without a strong, countervailing philosophical force to stand in its way, capital can simply run over whatever feeble opposition secularists manage to put up. By separating Christianity and economics, we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by the high priests of Mammon.

Fanfani, Amintore. Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism. 1934. Reprint. (Norfolk, VA.: IHS Press, 2003).