BOGOTÁ A theology teacher I knew used to tell me, a mocking grin on his lips, "you're the last communist left," to which I would reply, smiling, "and you're the last evangelist." In today's upside-down world of thieving politicians and self-righteous saints, corrupt and holy men, such concepts as communism have lost their sheen. Others, meanwhile, have gained undeserved respectability.

Especially in our country, where you have to carry out acts of faith in order to feel like you belong, a Colombian version of McCarthyism has reached unexpected heights. There is, it is murmured in the university cafeteria, a renewal of Inquisition methods and fascist tactics that recall the reign of ultra-conservative leader Laureano Gómez in the early 1950s.

Since the not-so-distant days when "communist" was synonymous with being a virtual armed guerrilla, the term has lost its meaning if not grossly misrepresented. The supporters of Álvaro Uribe, the conservative Colombian who served as president last decade, (who could equally have back the likes of Gómez or of Spain's General Franco), use the word as an insult.

In these neo-liberal times, our age of so-called post-modernity, a communist seems like the last of a threatened, exotic species. Or is this one of the last expressions of romanticism? Years ago, the communist was inevitably suspect, but also an irreverent soul who sought justice in the midst of social inequalities. The communist was a humanist, standing behind the exploited.

To those who thought liberalism was sinful, being a communist was positively hellish: You were a companion or an incarnation of the devil. In my view, it was once and remains today, synonymous with fighting for progress and intelligence, science, arts and development for all, and against inequalities. The communist agreed with the Cuban poet José Martí (who was not a communist) that nobody should beg for their rights. You must fight for them.

Do not expect to profit or prosper from communism today. Its yield is zero: Call it a junk bond. Our times call on everyone to be an individualist, but always, mind you, on the side of Big Brother inanities, constant oversight and the pummeling of majority rights by big interests. Neo-liberalism has given a firm reply to the people's aspirations to a dignified life. A smack in the mouth. More money for the rich, and more poverty for the poor. Or was it the Neo-conservatives who said it? It's really all the same.

They're now calling our patrician president a communist

Communism may have been one of the "big ideas" invented by humanity, but it is now thoroughly discredited by capitalism's friends that it has been turned to trash. Even worse: its meaning has been stripped. Indeed, they're now calling our eminently patrician president a communist — this, for a man who like his ultra-conservative predecessor, has privatized, auctioned or practically given away the country to please the International Monetary Fund and friends.

They say communism is a simple idea. But as Bertolt Brecht said, simple things are the hardest to achieve. Or as the Spanish communist Francisco 'Paco' Frutos, put it, no ideal of humanity was so thoroughly "turned into a piece of shit by those who transform ideals into dogmas, temples and churches." Capitalists and pseudo-communists worked together to send it all to the heap.

I suspect our home-grown fascists in Colombia do not want to end the systemic iniquities they have denounced, seeing as they helped create and sustain them, but rather want to hold the system in their dirty hands again, to eliminate more rights and pump the state for all its worth.

Today like yesterday being a communist means striving to build a fairer society, an alternative to the monstrous conditions strangling so many people with its economic, political and media tentacles. It is a system that both God and the devil could inhabit, as Mark Twain would say, the former for the weather and latter for the company to keep.

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