We Need the Tradinista!—Or Something Like Them

By David Mills
October 3, 2016

Now raising a minor furor on Facebook and the web is a twenty-point statement by a group of young Catholic socialists called the Tradinista! Movement (the exclamation mark is theirs). I would have thought that even those opposed to socialism would still think it a misguided but well-intentioned project, but apparently not.

The Tradinista Manifesto has received, judging from in an unscientific survey, little support. Catholics who share their obedience to the Church’s moral teaching reject their socialism. Many believe in some form of classic liberalism, while the new socialists’ natural allies defend some form of third way Distributism, one that’s often anti-socialist. Their political allies, both secular and dissenting Catholic, reject their obedience to the Church’s teaching on the moral life.

The Tradinistas

The Tradinista’s are, according to their website’s About page, “a party of young Christians devoted to a ressourcement of Catholic social teaching, classical Aristotelian-Thomist political philosophy, Marxist economic analysis, and their integration into a new kind of politics.” Our writer Chase Padusniak, who knows some of them, describes them as “intellectually serious, socially-conscious, and wholly orthodox Catholics. Many are Latin Mass-goers, disgusted by our contemporary social and economic climate.”

The members have remained anonymous. The two names that appear on the articles on the homepage, C. W. Strand and Juan Martin de Guzman, seem to be pseudonyms (though not admitted as such), judging from the lack of an author biography and of an online presence.


The “About” statement continues:
Not only is such an integration possible; it is also necessary to meet both the spiritual and the material challenges of the 21st Century. We advocate for a Christian socialism from the perspective of traditional Christian orthodoxy as the remedy to the ills of capitalism, of liberalism, and of modernism.

One hears in this the voices more of Alasdair Macintyre and Karl Polanyi than Karl Marx. Strand’s three-part series on the homepage explains what they mean by socialism, and adds more Marx.

The Value of the Tradinista! Movement

As a movement, the Tradinistas could be Martin O’Malley or Bernie Sanders. The first seems more likely, because movements rarely succeed. The second seems more than usually possible, because so many Catholics hope for an alternative and the conservative versions have had their day. They could be right, but pendulums swing.

If nothing else, should the Tradinistas succeed in gaining a place in the wider Catholic discussion, they will force more politically and economically conservative Catholics to take neglected aspects of the Church’s social teaching more seriously than they do. Gabriel Sanchez, one of their critics, has written, “Given that there is a noticeable contingent of Catholics who believe that almost all forms of taxation, redistribution, and regulation constitute socialism, it is necessary to show that the Church’s magisterium expressly contemplates all three under certain circumstances.”

Moving the leftward pole of the generally accepted political spectrum farther to the left will deepen Christian political discussion and therefore our corporate public witness. Mainstream liberalism is not as liberal on economics as liberals think, and doesn't provide a real leftwing alternative. Like the Orthodox theologian David Hart with his recent essay Christ’s Rabble, arguing that the New Testament takes a far more negative view of wealth than is generally believed, the Tradinistas’ provocation could create a new and needed exchange.

The Magisterial Just Wage

One issue on which this comes to a point is the magisterial teaching demanding a just wage. The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine (numbers 301 and 201) lists some of “The rights of workers, [that] like all other rights, are based on the nature of the human person and on his transcendent dignity,” and  lists first “the right to a just wage.”

The Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (67) demands that a man be paid “such that [he] may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents,” a demand quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see numbers 2409 and 2434.) The Compendium adds a stark warning: “They commit grave injustice who refuse to pay a just wage.”

Here’s the point of conflict: Catholic social teaching explicitly rejects a merely market-given answer: “The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a ‘just wage’, because . . . natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.”

The teaching could not be more definitive. Still, many conservative Catholics insist that only the market can set wages, meaning either that every wage (whatever it is) is by definition a just wage or that there is no such thing as a just wage. They see the Church’s demand as either nonsensical or impossible, and in either case another example of clerics not understanding economic laws.

In other words, they brush off the teaching as unrealistic, therefore not binding. A Catholic isn't allowed to do that. He can’t simply invoke an extrinsic claim to deny what the Church says. What is a just wage and how it is achieved may be a very difficult, a hugely difficult, a nearly impossible question to answer, but the Catholic answer isn't just "The market!" It isn’t just “Have the government set it!” either.

The Tradinista Future

The answer is something to be worked out with effort and care. It is something much more likely to be worked if the Church includes a serious leftwing voice. Even those who completely reject it need it, especially if they seek to be completely faithful Catholics.

Whether this movement of young Catholic socialists develops into that voice within the Church, no one can know. The Tradinista movement could fade from attention quickly, like Martin O’Malley’s candidacy, or prove surprising popular, like Bernie Sanders’. If it proves to be O’Malley, we still need a Sanders.