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Initially known as the ‘Group of Eighty Priests’ these socialists had their first meeting in Santiago , Chile, in 1971. These liberation theologians declared their unequivocal support for socialism and the ‘people’s revolution’. Half of them were from outside Chile The response of the Catholic bishops of Chile was to warn them to keep out of politics and especially to avoid Marxist socialism.
Later that year a bishops’ synod met in Rome and, while supporting the rights of the poor, avoided the Marxist underpinnings included in the Latin American theology debate at that time.
The Group held their first continent-wide meeting in April 1972, setting up the Christians for Socialism Movement. It was inspired by 2 Chilean Jesuits, Pablo Richards and Gonzalo Arroyo and included protestants as well as Catholics. It pushed the logic of Liberation Theology to its conclusion, namely to attempt a synthesis between Christianity and Marxism. They called for the “takeover of power by the exploited masses”. The final resolution of their conference explained the dialectical relationship between faith and the revolution as follows:
“The real and living presence of faith in the heart of revolutionary practice produces a fruitful interaction. Christian faith becomes a critical and dynamic leavening for the revolution. It reinforces our struggle for a total liberation of society rather than for a mere transformation of the economic structures.”
“Thus, through committed Christians, the faith makes its own contribution to building a society qualitatively different from the present one and to the burgeoning of the new human being. But revolutionary commitment also has a critical and motivating function for Christian faith. It criticizes the open or subtle forms of complicity between the faith and the dominant culture throughout history…The real context for a living faith today is the history of oppression and the struggle for liberation and against oppression. In order to place ourselves in this context, however we have to take a real part in the process by joining parties and organizations that are authentic instruments for the struggle of the working class.” (emphasis added) (iii)
The full text of “Declaration of the Eighty” (April 1971) can be read in english on the Zingcreed Post listed below, which comes from Kee (iv) p.229.
Before things could go any further, an American-backed military coup overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, and the Christians for Socialism Movement was banned and its leaders forced into exile.
(i) Villa-Vicencio, C. “Liberation and Reconstruction” in Rowland, C. “The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology” CUP (2007)
(ii) Löwy, Michael “Christianity and Liberation in Latin America” International Viewpoint 23/11/87
(iii) “Christians and Socialism. Documentation of the Christians for Socialism Movement in Latin America” Orbis Books (1975) p.173
(iv) Kee, A. “Marx and the failure of liberation theology” SCM (1990) p.229
(v) Lowy, Michael “The War of Gods. Religion and politics in latin america” Verso (1996) p.47
Related Zingcreed Posts:
Red Christian Documents #3: The Declaration of the Eighty (Chile 1971)
Jesus’s real political message