Justice. 27 June 1891

An Open Letter to the Pope

Source: “An Open Letter to the Pope;”, Justice, pp.2-3, 27 June 1891, D. Campbell;
Transcribed: by D. Mroz for MIA, April 2022.

To the Holy Father, by Divine Providence, Pope Leo XIII

Your Holiness has thought it incumbent on you to address an Encyclical Letter to the Christian World on the condition of labour; and in the interests of true religion and civilisation to attack and expose the fallacious reasonings of crafty Socialist agitators, who, “in order to pervert men’s judgements and stir up the people to sedition,” have made use of the numberless disputes between capital and labour, between employer and employed, with which the industrial world has been recently and is at present agitated, to further their own nefarious designs.

You, with that fatherly consideration for human well-being, for which the heads of the Holy Church have always been noted, have thought it was your duty to clearly state the dominating causes of the industrial war, and aided by your sublime wisdom, to point out with unfailing certitude the only true solution of the social problem, namely, a wholesale return to the bosom of the Church.

You affirm that the origin of the present unhappy position of affairs is firstly traceable to the spirit of revolutionary change with which the world has unfortunately been afflicted now for some centuries past; and secondly, to the surprising scientific discoveries which have been made in recent times, and which have entirely transformed the productive industrial process, and, consequently, have completely changed the economic and social relations of employer and employed. On the one hand creating enormous individual fortunes, and, on the other hand, intensifying the poverty of the masses.

“Working men,” you say, “have been given over isolated and defenceless to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition…also to the concentration of so many branches of trade in the hands of a few individuals, so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the masses of the poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.”

Here you point out the evils which accrue from the individual ownership, control, and administration of Social Wealth; but in the next sentence you attack the Socialists for what you are pleased to term their endeavour to destroy the institution of private property “by working on and inciting the poor man’s envy of the rich.”

This institution of private property you affirm is based on natural right and Divine command.

You state that the central and controlling motive of every man’s engaging in remunerative labour is to obtain property and to hold it as his own private possession. Also, if a man hires out his strength and industry to another for wages, he acquires a full and real right to the disposal of his wage. If he lives sparingly, saves money, and invests his savings in land, the land in such a case is only his wages in another form.

Your definition of private property may be summarised from pages 5,6, and 7 of your letter to the faithful, as the right of a man to the full use and enjoyment without molestation of the results of his labour. In fact, you say on page 7: “Is it just that the fruit of a man’s sweat and labour should be enjoyed by another?” And you inveigh against Socialists because forsooth you have by some freak of reasoning arrived at the conclusion that they are opposed to this Natural Right, as you term it. Does this private property of which you speak exist to any extent today?

The whole industrial productive process is to-day co-operative. The individual sinks into insignificance and occupies the background. The world’s markets,—in which all co-operatively-produced labour products meet as commodities, in Markey quotations of prices current—these control the destinies of the producers. Man, individually considered, is nothing but an insignificant subsidiary factor in this huge maelstrom of commercialism. His weal or woe is subject to the products of his own brain and hands. Man himself, in so far as he is a factor in production, is simply a machine possessed of certain activities, certain technical knowledges which are needful in production, and these activities, like all other things that are marketable, are always eager to be sold for money. Money is king, is Lord of all. The totality of other things are continually seeking to melt into that form. Now the most fundamental attribute of money is its tendency to concentrate and crystallise in large masses. Individual ownership and control, subject to the central economic law of continuous expansion of the mass is therefore the necessary outcome of a money economy.

Holy Father, your conception of private property: “The injustice, which flows from the fruits of a man’s sweat and labour being enjoyed by another,” is old-fashioned in face of the “money commodity” which at present dominates the civilised world. Capitalism does not hesitate as to the justice of appropriating the fruits of another’s labour. It exists only for expansion. Honesty, Justice, Honour, Truth, Chastity, sink into nothing in face of the great central principle of Grab. Socialists are not opposed to such an institution of private property as you picture; but it does not exist to-day, it belongs to one of the “surmounted categories” of human history. The whole product being social—the product, namely wealth, must be social. Hence the individual appropriation of such wealth, whether by force or legalised grand, is bound to result in the enslavement of the mass to the few, which you so much deplore.

Your reasonings, Holy Father, in reference to a man who cultivating a piece of land becomes by natural right the owner of that land, to the eternal exclusion of all others of God’s creatures, is very amusing the face of the modern developments of capitalism. We Socialists have got other work to do than that of analysing the justice or even expediency of establishing monopoly, even on the small scale of peasant proprietorship. We leave capitalism to deal with that. It makes short work of all such idyllic pictures of rustic industry and simple faith.

Holy Father, you are unjust in attacking Us. Your true quarry is not the Socialists, but the ruling powers of capitalism. Capitalism, not Socialism, has destroyed or will completely destroy and break in pieces every vestige of private property as you picture it, and in its place erect a huge and grinding monopoly of capitalistic property founded on a basis of slavery, the keystone of the arch being Money-wages, and the principal buttresses Fraud and Force, both legalised, and I have no doubt both will be blessed by the Holy Church.

There is one thing against the consummation, but it is not your Encyclical. It is the unconquerable spirit of man which marches on from age to age to ever higher altitudes, to ever higher and loftier conceptions of its mission, the goal of which is at present veiled; and even you, Holy Father, must bow down before that spirit, and you and the Holy Church of which you are the head will pass away and become the stuff of which dreams are made—a memory. I sincerely hope it may not be a nightmare.

I remain, Holy Father,

Yours in sincerity and truth,


A member of the Red International