Surreptitious Socialist Propaganda




Prof Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

with the collaboration of others

Subsection III – How the Campaign for “Agrarian Reform” Finds an Echo in a Non-Socialist Population, Chapter I – Surreptitious Socialist Propaganda

“Agrarian Reform”: Typical Social and Religious Revolution

Ideological and institutional crises tend by nature to spread to all domains, including the vocabulary. They exert pressure on certain words that gradually lose clarity and admit ever broader and less precise meanings. That is what happened, for example, with the word “revolution.” What does it mean today? Can one say that “Agrarian Reform” is a revolution?

The word “revolution” often designates a brute force action to impose on the powers-that-be, on a large class of people, or finally the acceptance by a whole people of some violation of their rights. In this sense, overthrowing a head of State is a revolution. The same is true of an act of a government that, supported by force, increases its prerogatives beyond the limits established by law. In both hypotheses, the occurrence of bloodshed is only secondary: while an archetypal revolution is a bloody one, there can be bloodless revolutions of a much more profoundly revolutionary character.

Can a law voted upon and sanctioned by competent authorities be called revolutionary in this sense? If such a law attacks institutions that result from the natural order created by God47 and are founded on the Decalogue, such as property and the family, then it must be called revolutionary: It is a revolutionary act of man against God.

In this sense, a law imposing “Agrarian Reform” would be a revolution of a social and economic nature, as “Agrarian Reform” seeks to change society’s structure and the economy. That revolution would also have a religious substratum as the intended change is, as such, contrary to the law of God and Church teaching.

Now then, as is well known, revolutionaries have very refined political intuitions or instincts that lead them to speak out or be silent about issues as needed and inspire them to pick the adequate slogans and formulas to reveal their designs gradually.

That is what one notes in this first phase of agitation to promote “Agrarian Reform.”

“Agrarian Reform” proponents find themselves facing a first tactical problem: If socialist doctrines were stated explicitly and articulately as an ideological system and were always openly called socialist, they would not be accepted by a majority of Brazilians.

Efficient Propaganda

For this very reason, the only way to disseminate these ideas is to conceal or dilute them in vague verbiage that insinuates them without affirming them. Even then, when insinuating one or another socialist thesis, they must carefully avoid showing its connection with other tenets lest people realize that they constitute a single, solid, and coherent doctrinal whole.

Other currents of thought, such as the Modernists, have used this tactic. About them, Pope St. Pius X shrewdly observed: “The Modernists employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast.” 48

The first precaution to take when employing this method consists of remaining as silent as possible on how agriculture benefits rural workers and the nation.

Once the terrain has been prepared, the offensive begins. They stress that the rural population lives in subhuman conditions. Instead of treating the matter with the nuances that it requires by indicating the regions and plantations where those situations exist and those where they do not, they simplify and generalize, conveying the impression that it happens everywhere.

From there, they start the search for solutions.

Obviously, posed in such an abstract way, the problem requires a likewise abstract solution, that is, promulgating a law that addresses in a single blow, situations that are extremely different in practice. At that point, speeches, lectures, magazine and newspaper articles on the issue abound. What an excellent opportunity to show off eloquence, literary skills, erudition, and make politics! And thus, the issue, always dealt with in the clouds, begins to boil.

This atmosphere attracts and places a certain class of people in the limelight. They are mainly “philosophers” – we would almost say poets – of agriculture and social issues who live in cities and take up these issues as literary themes. They are naturally sensitive to applause, greedy for propaganda, and prone to come up with easy, new sensational formulas that can earn the admiration of a particular public addicted to appreciate what is new, extravagant, and easy to understand. Thus, they tend more and more to advocate drastic and simplistic reforms. Do workers earn little? The solution is to oblige employers to pay more. The most simplistic way to remedy the situation of have-nots is to take from those who have. Landowners have insufficient income to pay better salaries but have lands; well, let us divide their lands. And so on.

Other people tend to stay away from these circles. They are accustomed to the real world, have nuanced and objective minds, and do not seek glittering solutions but serious ones. They know that laws do not resolve everything and that immediate solutions are seldom the best. By dint of being sensible and appreciating real progress rather than foolhardy adventures, these conservatives – in the good sense of the term – have nothing spectacular to tell crowds intoxicated with sensationalism, and so they barely attract attention. Their reasonable and serious reform projects, to be carried out in stages, do not speak to the imagination.

Thus, without brakes or counterweights, the atmosphere is prepared for everything; certain words cut through it like lightning bolts which, by the force of the particular circumstances, are endowed with extraordinary suggestiveness.

Here there is no need to analyse these words in their proper, legitimate and well-known meaning, but rather in the imponderables they carry in the present situation.

We hear and read them with growing frequency.

For example, the term “evolution” insinuates that the whole past is necessarily less good than the present and the present is less good than the future. This produces a tendency to reject all traditions as something dead and to think that, by the nature of things, everything that exists should be changed and no principles or institutions will remain to the end of the world. Thus, they cast private property into the gooey field of debate: It would seem just as natural for it to live on or perish.

While legitimate as such, the word “social” also has its magic. Blown by demagogues, it insinuates that collective interests are necessarily in continual opposition to private interests and we should always seek ways to restrict and curtail them.

In these circles, a “problem” is as flashy and attractive as a new suit or a jewel. Everyone grabs onto a “problem” to try and solve it. And each “problem” serves as a “hobby” to a certain number of fans. Happy is the one who finds a new “problem” and creates a circle of “fans” to savour his analyses and possible solutions. This gradually gives rise to the habit of seeing the whole social body as nothing but an immense fabric of problems. In this way, people eventually despair of sensible and current solutions and seek spectacular and radical solutions that might solve everything through complete reform. Who knows if Communism, which succeeded in putting a rocket on the moon, will solve all these problems? Communism is a harsh word, almost a dirty one. But would a soft little socialism not be helpful?

“Feudalism” and “large land holdings” are expressions often taken in a pejorative sense. We deal with them in more detail on  [Proposition 8, no. 9].

There would be countless examples. Let us mention only one more. It is the joint use of the words “democracy” and “social justice.” To certain ears, democracy sounds like absolute equality. As a consequence, social justice would be democracy applied in the social and economic sphere. Thus, in this light, social justice is only realized fully in complete economic and social equality, which, as Leo XIII teaches, is the goal of Socialism:

Socialism “aims at putting all government in the hands of the masses, reducing all ranks to the same level, abolishing all distinction of class, and finally introducing community of goods. Hence, the right to own private property is to be abrogated, and whatever property a man possesses, or whatever means of livelihood he has, is to be common to all.” 49

It is typical of these and other formulas that those employing them at times inoculate their listeners with the virus of socialism. For their part, the latter do not realize that their mentality is becoming socialistic.

Not long ago, there was talk that “subliminal action” was being employed in the cinema. That action is said to occur by projecting words on the screen — a slogan, for example — so quickly that the audience would not have the time to perceive them consciously. Nonetheless, the public would subconsciously perceive the message’s meaning and be profoundly (though inadvertently) affected by it.

We do not know whether “subliminal action” in theatres really exists. But a “subliminal” process of socialist propaganda indeed does.

The above examples do not amount to affirming that words such as social justice, evolution, problem, and others do not have a good meaning; nor are we questioning the need to investigate existing problems and earnestly strive to solve them.

But we do affirm that in the chaotic environment in which we live, all this is easily transformed into poison or caricature.

In such a distorted climate, it is not difficult to lead gradually everyone to study real or imaginary problems in search of a simplistic solution: systematically sacrificing property owners (thought to be tycoons) for the sake of workers and the State, who are always in need. The right of property is the great enemy of both. If that right did not exist, everyone would become rich!

Thus, one becomes a socialist little by little through a “subliminal action” resulting from a combination of environmental influences and an assortment of words with ‘magic’ value, containing concealed opinions.

They are spreading more than just a doctrine; they are forming a mentality that is fertile ground for sowing all the germs of socialism.

The unfortunate guinea pig of this method does not perceive he was cunningly subjected to “brainwashing” and has become a socialist and even an activist without knowing what socialism is.

When seeking to instil this mentality in emotion-prone Catholics unaware of the social doctrine of the Popes, they employ an array of very legitimate words, though unfortunately falsified. On the pretext of proving that the Church is not against progress, they create a naïve vision of the present and the future marked by evolutionary optimism and real aversion for tradition. They compromise with imprudent and even censurable customs that undermine the family on the pretext of modernity and love of progress. Alleging ‘social justice,’ they spread the idea that the Church is the mistress and champion of the most radical equality. Finally, on the pretext of protecting the poor and downtrodden, they create a state of mind fiercely hostile to all hierarchy, be it political, economic, social, or even religious.50 In short, words that are excellent, contain a perfect meaning, and continue to be those of Catholic doctrine, are uttered with the pestiferous breath of socialism.

Leo XIII clearly pointed out this danger: “The socialists, stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes.”51

That socialist tactic produced lamentable effects. It produced not only absurd attempts to create ‘Catholic’ socialism but gave rise to an entire class of Catholics imbued with Modernism, as its “very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint.”52

From this originated socialist modernism thus described by Pius XI:

“Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labour, on the rights of the labouring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or as if the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV did not remain still in full force. There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.”53

These processes are customary in revolutions. They give the latter the necessary impulse, but at the same time, they sow chaos, which works to their advantage.

In our concrete case, one sees chaos on reading speeches, interviews and projected bills published about “Agrarian Reform.” Seen as a whole, they all look so similar and yet so different from one another in various aspects that they give the impression of a possibly inextricable entanglement. It takes much attention to realize that there is a method in this chaos, namely, that socialist doctrine is what inspires this combat in different ways and degrees. Now then, this chaos has a highly noxious psychological effect for the defenders of common sense and a very advantageous one for demagogues. A recent event enables us to emphasize this point.

As is known, statements by Nikita Khrushchev the day before the summit conference scheduled for May of this year in Paris had led to expectations that the tension created by the incident with the American U-2 plane would dissipate. However, the Soviet dictator caused surprise and even astonishment by taking a position so spectacularly aggressive that the summit could not even be held.

Diplomatic circles exhausted themselves, making conjectures, some more plausible and others less so, to fathom the intentions of the minister-actor. When discussions in the press were rampant, an English psychologist, William Sargent, published in the London Times an explanation of the episode. The well-known Russian scientist Pavlov proved by experiments with dogs, that when given successive and contradictory instructions, they become distressed and end up losing their “will.” Now, says Sargent, an analogous phenomenon happens with men. By imposing successive and contradictory changes of course on international politics and by making the peoples of the West constantly oscillate in anguish between perspectives of peace and a nuclear hecatomb, Khrushchev dismantles the very nerve of resistance of the adversary, which is the will to fight and to survive.

It is not for us here to take a stand regarding the doctrinal positions of Sargent and Pavlov, nor to speculate whether this effect in public opinion was the only one that Khrushchev intended. The fact is that there is plenty of common sense to the observation of the English psychologist, and that at least collaterally, that effect was foreseen and attained.

Now then, it is licit to ask if in their sharp, fine and subtle instincts, socialist demagogues will not delight in disorienting and weakening the will of their adversary in this chaotic slew of “Agrarian Reform” proposals covering the whole gamut from “moderate” to terrifying. Once that is achieved, the adversary, disoriented and exhausted, will ask: is it not better to give in some so as not to lose it all? The day this problem impresses large segments of public opinion the climate will have been created to take the first steps toward the socialization of agriculture.

After that, they will perhaps stop a bit. Between sadness and tranquillity, the naïve farmer will have a breather.

But the immense ideological and temperamental movement driving the modern world toward complete equality in a classless society cannot be content with so little, for everything that is strong and impetuous does not and cannot spontaneously stop halfway. Either one erects firm barriers against it in the name of the basic principles of Christian civilization, or of itself the avalanche of egalitarianism will attain its ultimate extreme. And “Agrarian Reform” will completely socialize agriculture, its mentors eyeing the day when commerce and industry will be socialized as well.

Thus, after a while, the onslaught will resume, and then it will be much more difficult to contain. It is possible to hold back a stone that oscillates at the top of a hill. But who will contain an avalanche rapidly and voluminously rolling down at mid-slope?

For the sake of Christian civilization and Brazil, we must therefore consider that this system of gradual progression of rural socialism and slow but implacable destruction of the institution of private property, facilitated by a blind policy of concessions, is the danger we should fear the most.


47 Cf. Title II, Chapter II.

48 Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, September 8, 1907 no. 4 at gregis_en.html.

49 Encyclical Graves de Communi, January 18, 1901, no. 5 at re_en.html

50 Cf. Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, Carta Pastoral sobre os problemas do apostolado moderno, Boa Imprensa Ltda., Campos, 1953.

51 Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris, December 28, 1878 no. 5 at muneris_en.html.

52 Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, September 8, 1907 no. 3 at gregis_en.html.

53 Encyclical Ubi Arcano, December 23, 1922 nos. 60-61 at consilio_en.html.