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Open Access Decentering American Jesuit Anti-Communism: John LaFarge’s United Front Strategy, 1934–39

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Decentering American Jesuit Anti-Communism: John LaFarge’s United Front Strategy, 1934–39

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In 1934, the Society of Jesus was asked to respond at global and regional levels to the increasing threat of world Communism. In North America, the Jesuits initiated plans to meet the twin threats of Communism and atheism. Between 1934 and 1939, two separate streams of Jesuit anti-Communism began to emerge. The first was a macro-style vision grounded in social reconstruction, which the Jesuits called “Establishing a Christian Social Order,” known colloquially as the “XO” program. The other plan was put forward as early as 1934, and elaborated in July 1936 at the Jesuit meeting in West Baden, Indiana, by the writer and editor John LaFarge. LaFarge’s plan, known as the United Front, has never been evaluated by historians. It was a localized program of reactive initiatives meant to meet the gains of the CPUSA with effective Catholic counter-Communist public attacks. LaFarge aimed to recruit students, pastors, and fellow Jesuits to see to it that CPUSA gains in labor, culture, education, government, and churches were met with equal and effective public counterattacks. In 1937, the publication of the papal encyclical Divini redemptoris signaled that social reconstruction could become a part of authentic Catholic anti-Communism, indicating the eclipse of LaFarge’s United Front. After 1939, when the Jesuit general Włodzimierz Ledóchowski called for an adoption of the “positive message” of social reconstruction as the dominant means of Jesuit anti-Communism, LaFarge’s more bumptious and militaristic plan began to fade for good. This article chronicles the heretofore unknown struggle between these two antipodes.

Affiliations: 1: Boston College charles.gallagher@bc.edu

In 1934, the Society of Jesus was asked to respond at global and regional levels to the increasing threat of world Communism. In North America, the Jesuits initiated plans to meet the twin threats of Communism and atheism. Between 1934 and 1939, two separate streams of Jesuit anti-Communism began to emerge. The first was a macro-style vision grounded in social reconstruction, which the Jesuits called “Establishing a Christian Social Order,” known colloquially as the “XO” program. The other plan was put forward as early as 1934, and elaborated in July 1936 at the Jesuit meeting in West Baden, Indiana, by the writer and editor John LaFarge. LaFarge’s plan, known as the United Front, has never been evaluated by historians. It was a localized program of reactive initiatives meant to meet the gains of the CPUSA with effective Catholic counter-Communist public attacks. LaFarge aimed to recruit students, pastors, and fellow Jesuits to see to it that CPUSA gains in labor, culture, education, government, and churches were met with equal and effective public counterattacks. In 1937, the publication of the papal encyclical Divini redemptoris signaled that social reconstruction could become a part of authentic Catholic anti-Communism, indicating the eclipse of LaFarge’s United Front. After 1939, when the Jesuit general Włodzimierz Ledóchowski called for an adoption of the “positive message” of social reconstruction as the dominant means of Jesuit anti-Communism, LaFarge’s more bumptious and militaristic plan began to fade for good. This article chronicles the heretofore unknown struggle between these two antipodes.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22141332-00501006
2018-12-21
2018-06-21

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