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The Secret Truth About Karl Marx and His Disciples Part 2

Economics / Economic Theory Oct 26, 2009 - 06:01 PM GMT

By: Murray_N_Rothbard


Communism as the Kingdom of God on Earth: The Takeover of Münster

Thomas Müntzer and his Sign may have gotten short shrift, and his body be a-mouldrin' in the grave, but his soul kept marching on. His cause was soon picked up by a Müntzer disciple, the bookbinder Hans Hut.

Hut claimed to be a prophet sent by God to announce that Christ would return to earth at Whitsuntide, 1528, and would give the power to enforce justice to Hut and to his following of rebaptized saints. The saints would then "take up double-edged swords" and wreak God's vengeance upon priests, pastors, kings, and nobles. Hut and his men would then "establish the rule of Hans Hut on earth," with Muhlhausen, as one might expect, as the world's capital. Christ, aided by Hut and company, would then establish a millennium of communism and free love.

Hut was captured in 1527 (unfortunately before Jesus had a chance to return), imprisoned at Augsburg, and killed allegedly trying to escape. For a year or two, Huttian followers popped up throughout southern Germany, threatening to set up a communist Kingdom of God by force of arms. In 1530, however, they were smashed and suppressed by the alarmed authorities. Müntzer-type Anabaptism would now move to northwestern Germany.

Northwestern Germany was dotted by a number of small ecclesiastical states, each run by a prince-bishop (bishops who were secular aristocratic lords not ordained as priests). The ruling clergy of the state exempted themselves from taxation, while imposing heavy taxes on the rest of the populace. Generally, the capital cities of each state were run by an oligarchy of guilds who cartelized their crafts, and who battled the state clergy for a degree of autonomy.

The largest of these ecclesiastical states in northwest Germany was the bishopric of Münster; its capital city of Münster, a town of some 10,000 people, was run by the town guilds. During and after the Peasants' War, the guilds and clergy battled back and forth, until, in 1532, the guilds, supported by the people, were able to take over the town, soon forcing the Catholic bishop to recognize Münster officially as a Lutheran city.

Münster was not destined to remain Lutheran for long, however. From all over the northwest, hordes of Anabaptist crazies flooded into the city of Münster, seeking the onset of the New Jerusalem. Anabaptism escalated when the eloquent and popular young minister Bernt Rothmann, a highly educated son of a town blacksmith, converted to Anabaptism.

Originally a Catholic priest, Rothmann had become a friend of Luther and a head of the Lutheran church in Münster. But now he lent his eloquent preaching to the cause of communism as it had supposedly existed in the primitive Christian Church, with everything being held in common, with no mine or thine, and each man receiving according to his "need." Rothmann's widespread reputation attracted thousands more into Münster, largely the poor, the rootless, and those hopelessly in debt.

The leader of the horde of Münster Anabaptists, however, was destined to be not Rothmann but a Dutch baker from Haarlem, Jan Matthys. In early 1534, Matthys sent out missionaries or "apostles" to rebaptize everyone they could into the Matthys movement, and his apostles were greeted in Münster with enormous enthusiasm. Even Rothmann was rebaptized once again, followed by many former nuns and a large part of the population.

The leader of the Matthys movement soon arrived, a young Dutchman of 25, named Jan Bockelson (Jan of Leyden). Bockelson quickly married the daughter of the wealthy cloth merchant, Bernt Knipperdollinck, the leader of the Münster guilds, and the two men, leading the town in apocalyptic frenzy, led a successful uprising to dominate the town. The two leaders sent messengers outside the town urging all followers to come to Münster. The rest of the world, they proclaimed, would be destroyed in a month or two; only Münster would be saved, to become the New Jerusalem.

Thousands poured in from as far away as Frisia in the northern Netherlands. As a result, the Anabaptists were able to impose absolute rule on the city, with the incoming Matthys, aided by Bockelson, becoming the virtual dictator of Münster. At last, Anabaptism had seized a real-life city; the greatest communist experiment in history to that date could now begin.

The first cherished program of this new communist theocracy was, of course, to purge the New Jerusalem of the unclean and the ungodly, as a prelude to their ultimate extermination throughout the world. Matthys, therefore, called for the execution of all remaining Catholics and Lutherans, but Knipperdollinck, slightly more politically astute, warned Matthys that such immediate slaughter might bring down the wrath of the rest of the world. Matthys therefore did the next best thing and on February 27 the Catholics and Lutherans were driven out of the city, in the midst of a horrendous snowstorm.

Prefiguring the actions of communist Cambodia in the 1970s, all non-Anabaptists, including old people, invalids, babies, and pregnant women, were driven into the snowstorm, and all were forced to leave behind all their money, property, food, and clothing. The remaining Lutherans and Catholics were compulsorily rebaptized, all those refusing being put to death. The mass expulsion of non-Anabaptists was enough for the bishop, who began a long military siege of Münster the next day.

With every person in the city drafted for siege work, Jan Matthys launched his totalitarian-communist social revolution. The first step was to confiscate the property of the expellees. All their worldly goods were placed in central depots, and the poor were encouraged to take "according to their needs," the "needs" to be interpreted by seven appointed "deacons" chosen by Matthys.

When a blacksmith protested at these measures imposed, particularly gallingly, by a group of Dutch foreigners, Matthys arrested the courageous smithy. Summoning the entire population of the town to be witness, Matthys personally stabbed, shot, and killed the "godless" blacksmith, and then threw into prison several leading citizens who protested his treatment. The crowd was warned to profit by this public execution, and they obediently sang a hymn in honor of the killing.

A crucial part of the Anabaptist reign of terror was their decision, again prefiguring that of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, to abolish all private ownership of money. With no money to purchase any good, the population became slavishly dependent on handouts or rations from the power elite. Accordingly, Matthys, Rothmann, and the rest launched a propaganda campaign that it was un-Christian to own money privately; and that all money should be held "in common," which in practice meant that all money whatsoever must be handed over to Matthys and his ruling clique. Several Anabaptists who kept or hid their money were arrested and terrorized into crawling to Matthys on their knees, begging forgiveness, which Matthys graciously granted them.

After two months of unremitting propaganda, combined with threats and terror against those who disobeyed, the private ownership of money was effectively abolished in Münster. The government seized all the money and used it to buy goods or hire workers from the outside world. Wages were doled out in kind by the only employer: the theocratic Anabaptist State.

Food was confiscated from private homes, and rationed according to the will of government deacons. Also, to accommodate the host of immigrants, all private homes were effectively communized, with everyone permitted to quarter themselves everywhere; it was now illegal to close, let alone lock, one's doors. Compulsory communal dining halls were established, where people ate together to the readings from the Old Testament.

The compulsory communism and reign of terror was carried out in the name of community and Christian "love." This communization was considered the first giant step toward egalitarian communism, where, as Rothmann put it, "all things were to be in common, there was to be no private property and nobody was to do any more work, but simply trust in God." Somehow, the workless part never seemed to arrive.

A pamphlet sent by the Matthys regime to other Anabaptist communities hailed their new order of Christian love through terror:

For not only have we put all our belongings into a common pool under the care of deacons, and live from it according to our need; we praise God through Christ with one heart and mind and are eager to help one another with every kind of service. And accordingly, everything which has served the purposes of self-seeking and private property, such as buying and selling, working for money, taking interest and practicing usury … or eating and drinking the sweat of the poor … and indeed everything which offends us against love – all such things are abolished amongst us by the power of love and community.

At the end of March 1534, however, Matthys's swollen hubris brought him down. Convinced at Easter time that God had ordered him and a few of the faithful to lift the Bishop's siege and liberate the town, Matthys and a few others rushed out of the gates at the besieging army, and were literally hacked to pieces in response.

The death of Matthys left Münster in the hands of young Bockelson. And if Matthys had chastised the people of Münster with whips, Bockelson would chastise them with scorpions. Bockelson wasted little time in mourning his mentor. He preached to the faithful: "God will give you another Prophet who will be more powerful."

How could this young enthusiast top his master? Early in May, Bockelson caught the attention of the town by running naked through the streets in a frenzy, falling then into a silent three-day ecstasy. When he rose on the third day, he announced to the entire populace a new dispensation that God had revealed to him.

With God at his elbow, Bockelson abolished the old town offices of Council and burgermaster, and installed a new ruling council of 12 elders headed by himself. The elders were given total authority over the life and death, the property and spirit, of every inhabitant of Münster. The old guilds were abolished, and a strict system of forced labor was imposed. All artisans not drafted into the military were now public employees, working for the community for no monetary reward.

Totalitarianism in Münster was now complete. Death was now the punishment for virtually every independent act. Capital punishment was decreed for the high crimes of murder, theft, lying, avarice, and quarrelling. Death was also decreed for every conceivable kind of insubordination: the young against the parents, wives against their husbands, and, of course, anyone at all against the chosen representative of God on earth, the government of Münster. Bernt Knipperdollinck was appointed high executioner to enforce the decrees.

The only aspect of life previously left untouched was sex, and this deficiency was now made up. The only sexual relation now permitted by the Bockelson regime was marriage between two Anabaptists. Sex in any other form, including marriage with one of the "godless," was a capital crime.

But soon Bockelson went beyond this rather old-fashioned credo, and decided to enforce compulsory polygamy in Münster. Since many of the expellees had left their wives and daughters behind, Münster now had three times as many marriageable women as men, so that polygamy had become technically feasible. Bockelson convinced the other, rather startled preachers by citing polygamy among the patriarchs of Israel, reinforcing this method of persuasion by threatening any dissenters with death.

Compulsory polygamy was a bit much for many of the Münsterites, who launched a rebellion in protest. The rebellion, however, was quickly crushed and most of the rebels put to death. And so, by August 1554, polygamy had been coercively established in Münster. As one might expect, young Bockelson took an instant liking to the new regime, and before long he had amassed a harem of 15 wives, including Divara, the beautiful young widow of Jan Matthys.

The rest of the male population also began to take enthusiastically to the new decree. Many of the women reacted differently, however, and so the Elders passed a law ordering compulsory marriage for every woman under (and presumably also over) a certain age, which usually meant becoming a compulsory third or fourth wife.

Since marriage among the godless was not only invalid but also illegal, the wives of the expellees became fair game, and they were forced to "marry" good Anabaptists. Refusal of the women to comply with the new law was punishable, of course, with death, and a number of women were actually executed as a result. Those "old" wives who resented the new competitors in their households were also cracked down on, and their quarrelling was made a capital crime; many women were thereupon executed for quarrelling.

Bockelsonian despotism could only reach so far, however, and general resistance forced the regime to relent and permit divorce. In an about-face, not only was divorce now permitted, but all marriage was now outlawed totally, and divorce made very easy. As a result, Münster now became a regime of what amounted to compulsory free love. Thus, within the space of a few months, a rigid puritanism had been transmuted into a system of compulsory promiscuity.

Bockelson proved to be an excellent organizer of a besieged city. Compulsory labor was strictly enforced, and he was also able to induce many of the Bishop's poorly paid mercenaries to quit by offering them regular pay – with money, of course, that had been confiscated from the citizens of Münster. When the Bishop fired pamphlets into the town offering a general amnesty in return for surrender, Bockelson made reading such pamphlets a crime punishable by death. As a result, the Bishop's armies were in disarray by the end of August, and the siege was temporarily lifted.

Jan Bockelson took the opportunity to triumphantly carry his "egalitarian" communist revolution one crucial step further: he had himself proclaimed king and messiah of the Last Days.

Bockelson realized that proclaiming himself king might have appeared tacky and unconvincing, even to the Bockelsonian faithful. And so he arranged for one Dusentschur, a goldsmith from a nearby town and self-proclaimed prophet, to do the job for him. At the beginning of September, Dusentschur announced to one and all a new revelation: that Jan Bockelson was to be the king of the whole world, the heir of King David, destined to keep that throne until God himself came to reclaim His Kingdom.

Unsurprisingly, Bockelson confirmed that he himself had had the very same revelation. After a moment's coyness, Bockelson accepted the Sword of Justice and anointment as King of the World from Dusentschur, and Bockelson announced to the crowd that God had now given him "power over all the nations of the earth," and that anyone who might dare to resist God's will "shall without delay be put to death with the sword." The Anabaptist preachers of Münster dutifully explained to their bemused flock that Bockelson was indeed the messiah as foretold in the Old Testament, and therefore the rightful ruler, both temporal and spiritual, of the entire world.

It often happens with self-proclaimed "egalitarians" that a special escape hatch from the drab uniformity of life is created – for themselves. And so it was with King Bockelson. It was important to emphasize in every way the importance of the messiah's Advent. And so Bockelson wore the finest robes, metals and jewelry; he appointed courtiers and gentlemen-at-arms, who also appeared in splendid finery. King Bockelson's chief wife, Divara, was proclaimed Queen of the World, and she too was dressed in great finery and enjoyed a suite of courtiers and followers.

The new, luxurious court included two hundred people housed in fine, requisitioned mansions. King Bockelson would hold court on a throne draped with a cloth of gold in the public square, wearing a crown and carrying a scepter. Also garbed in finery were Bockelson's loyal aides, including Knipperdollinck as chief minister, and Rothmann as royal orator.

If communism is the perfect society, somebody must be able to enjoy its fruits; and who better than the messiah and his courtiers? Though private property in money was abolished, the confiscated gold and silver was now minted into ornamental coins in honor of the new king. All horses were confiscated for the king's armed squadron. Names in revolutionary Münster were also transformed; all the streets were renamed; Sundays and feast days were abolished; and all newborn children were named personally by the king in accordance with a special pattern.

In order that the king and his nobles might live in high luxury, the subject population were now robbed of everything above the bare minimum; clothing and bedding were severely rationed, and all "surplus" turned over to King Bockelson on pain of death.

It is not surprising that the deluded masses of Münster began to grumble at being forced to live in abject poverty while King Bockelson and his courtiers lived in great luxury on the proceeds of their confiscated belongings. Bockelson responded by beaming propaganda to justify the new system.

The justification was this: it was all right for Bockelson to live in pomp and luxury because he was already "dead" to the world and the flesh. Since he was dead to the world, in a deep sense his luxury didn't count. In the style of every guru who has ever lived in luxury among his poor, credulous followers, he explained that for him material objects had no value.

More importantly perhaps, Bockelson assured his subjects that he and his court were only the advance guard of the new order; soon, they too would be living in the same millennial luxury. Under their new order the people of Münster would soon forge outward, armed with God's will, and conquer the entire world, exterminating the unrighteous, after which Jesus would return and they would live in luxury and perfection. Equal communism with great luxury for all would then be achieved.

Greater dissent meant, of course, escalated terror, and King Bockelson's reign of "love" and death intensified its course of intimidation and slaughter. As soon as he proclaimed the monarchy, the prophet Dusentschur announced a new divine revelation: that all who persisted in disagreeing with or disobeying King Bockelson shall be put to death, and their very memory extirpated forever. Many of the victims executed were women, who were killed for denying their husbands' marital rights, insulting a preacher, or daring to practice polygyny – which was considered to be a solely male privilege.

The Bishop was beginning to resume his siege, but Bockelson was able to use much of the expropriated gold and silver to send apostles and pamphlets out to surrounding areas, attempting to rouse the masses to Anabaptist revolution. The propaganda had considerable effect, leading to mass uprisings throughout Holland and northwestern Germany during January 1535.

A thousand armed Anabaptists gathered under the leadership of someone who called himself Christ, Son of God. And serious Anabaptist uprisings took place in West Frisia, in the town of Minden, and even the great city of Amsterdam, where the rebels managed to capture the town hall. All these uprisings were eventually suppressed, with the help of betrayal of the names of the rebels and the location of their munitions dumps.

By this time, the princes of northwestern Europe had had enough; and all the states of the Holy Roman Empire agreed to supply troops to crush the hellish regime at Münster. By late January, Münster was totally and successfully blockaded and cut off from the outside world.

Food shortages appeared immediately, and the crisis was met by the Bockelson regime with characteristic vigor: all remaining food was confiscated, and all horses killed, for the benefit of feeding the king, his royal court, and his armed guards. At all times throughout the siege the king and his court managed to eat and drink well, while famine and devastation swept through the town of Münster , and the masses ate literally anything, even inedible, they could lay their hands on.

King Bockelson maintained his rule by beaming continual propaganda and promises to the starving masses. God would definitely save them by Easter, or else Bockelson would have himself burnt in the public square. When Easter came and went, and no salvation had appeared, Bockelson craftily explained that he had meant only "spiritual" salvation, which had indeed occurred.

He then promised that God would change the cobblestones to bread, and this of course did not happen either. Finally, Bockelson, long fascinated by the theater, ordered his starving subjects to engage in three days of dancing and athletics. Dramatic performances were held, as well as a Black Mass.

The poor, starving people of Münster were now doomed totally. The Bishop kept firing leaflets into the town promising a general amnesty if they would only depose King Bockelson and his court and hand them over to the princely forces. To guard against this threat, Bockelson stepped up his reign of terror still further.

In early May, Bockelson divided the town into 12 sections, and placed a "duke" over each section with an armed force of 24 men. The dukes were foreigners like himself, and as Dutch immigrants they would be more likely to be loyal to King Bockelson. Each duke was strictly forbidden to leave his own section, and they, in turn, prohibited any meetings of even a few people.

No one was allowed to leave town, and anyone caught attempting or plotting to leave, helping anyone else to leave, or criticizing the king, was instantly beheaded – mainly by King Bockelson himself. By mid-June such deeds were occurring daily, with the body often quartered in sections and nailed up as a warning to the Münster masses.

Bockelson would undoubtedly have let the entire population of the city starve to death rather than surrender; but two escapees betrayed weak spots in the town's defenses and on the night of June 24, 1535, the nightmare New Jerusalem of communism and "love" at last came to a bloody end. The last several hundred Anabaptist fighters surrendered under an amnesty and were promptly massacred, and Queen Divara was beheaded. As for King Bockelson, he was led about on a chain, and, the following January, he and Knipperdollinck were publicly tortured to death, and their bodies suspended in cages from a church tower.

The old establishment of Münster was duly restored and the city became Catholic once more. The stars were again in their courses, and the events of 1534–1535 understandably led to an abiding distrust of mysticism and enthusiast movements throughout Protestant Europe.

It is instructive to understand the attitude of all Marxist historians toward Münster and the other millennialist movements of the early 16th century. The Marxists have always understandably lauded these movements and regimes, (a) for being communist, and (b) for being revolutionary movements from below. Marxists have invariably hailed these movements as forerunners of their own.

Ideas are notoriously difficult to kill, and Anabaptist communism was one such idea. One of Müntzer's collaborators, Henry Niclaes, who had been born in Münster, survived to found Familism, a pantheistic creed claiming that Man is God, and calling for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth as the only place that it would ever exist. A key to that kingdom would be a system in which all property would be held in common, and all men would attain the perfection of Christ.

Familist ideas were carried to England by a Dutch joiner, Christopher Vittels, a disciple of Niclaes, and Familism spread in England during the late 16th century. A center of Familism in early 17th-century England was the Grindletonians, in Grindleton, Yorkshire, led, in the decade after 1615, by the curate, the Rev. Roger Brearly. Part of the attraction of Familism was its antinomianism – the view that truly godly persons, such as themselves, could never, by definition, commit a sin – and antinomians usually flaunted what most people considered sins in order to demonstrate to one and all their godly and sin-free status.

During the English Civil War of the 1640s and l650s many radical religious groups bubbled to the surface, including Gerrard Winstanley and the pantheist-communist Diggers noted above. Featuring extreme antinomianism combined with pantheism and communism including communism of women, were the half-crazed Ranters, who urged everyone to sin so as to demonstrate their purity.

The Reappearance of Communism in the French Revolution

In times of trouble, war, and social upheaval, millennial and messianic sects have always appeared and burgeoned. After the English Civil War subsided, millennialist and communist creeds vanished, only to appear again in force at the time of the French Revolution. The difference was that now, for the first time, secular rather than religious communist movements appeared.

But the new secular communist prophets faced a grave problem: What was their agency for social change? The agency acclaimed by the religious millennialists had always been God and his Providential Messiah or vanguard prophets and destined, apocalyptic tribulations. But what could be the agency for a secular millennium and how could secular prophets drum up the necessary confidence in their foreordained triumph?

The first secularized communists appeared as two isolated individuals in mid-18th-century France. One was the aristocrat Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, elder brother of the laissez-faire liberal philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac. Mably's major focus was to insist that all men are "perfectly" equal and uniform, one and the same everywhere.

As in the case of many other communists after him, Mably found himself forced to confront one of the greatest problems of communism: if all property is owned in common and every person is equal, then there can be little or no incentive to work. For only the common store will benefit from anyone's work and not the individual himself. Mably in particular had to face this problem, since he also maintained that man's natural and original state was communism, and that private property arose to spoil everything precisely out of the indolence of some who wished to live at the expense of others. As Alexander Gray points out, "the indolence that ruined primitive communism would probably once again ruin communism, if reestablished."

Mably's two proposed solutions to this crucial problem were scarcely adequate. One was to urge everyone to tighten their belts, to want less, to be content with Spartan austerity. The other was to come up with what Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung would later call "moral incentives": to substitute for crass monetary rewards the recognition of one's merits by one's brothers – in the form of ribbons, medals, etc. In his devastatingly witty and perceptive critique, Alexander Gray writes that

The idea that the world may find its driving force in a Birthday Honours List (giving to the King, if necessary, 365 birthdays a year) occurs with pathetic frequency in the more Utopian forms of socialist literature.…

But obviously, if any were wise or depraved enough to say that they preferred indolence to a ribbon (and there would be many such) they would have to be allowed to continue to lead idle lives, sponging on their neighbours; perhaps some who had at last attained the ribbon might burst into a blaze of faineantise (laziness) in order that they might without distraction savour the pleasure which accompanies consideration.

Gray goes on to point out that the more "distinctions" are handed out as incentives, the less they will truly distinguish, and the less influence they will therefore exert. Furthermore, Mably "does not say how or by whom his distinctions are to be conferred." Gray goes on:

it is assumed, and always is assumed, that there will be a universal and unquestioning belief that the fountain of honour has sprayed its refreshing waters on all the most deserving and on none but the most deserving. This naïvely innocent faith does not exist in the world we know, nor is it likely to exist in any earthly paradise that many may imagine.

Gray concludes that in a communist society in the real world, many people who don't receive honors may and probably will be disgruntled and resentful at the supposed injustice: "A general or a civil servant, kept waiting unduly in the queue for the Bath, may find his youthful ardour replaced by the sourness of hope deferred, and zeal may flag."[31]

Thus, in his two preferred solutions, Gabriel de Mably was resting his hope on a miraculous transformation of human nature, much as the Marxists would later look for the advent of the New Socialist Man, willing to bend his desires and incentives to the requirements of, and the baubles conferred by, the collective. But for all his devotion to communism, Mably was at the bottom a realist, and so he held out no hope for communist triumph. Man is too steeped in the sin of selfishness and private property for a victory to occur. Clearly, Mably had scarcely begun to solve the secularist problem of social change or to inspire the birth and flowering of a revolutionary communist movement.

If Mably's pessimism was scarcely suitable for inspiring a movement, the same was not true of the other influential secular communist of mid-18th-century France, the unknown writer Morelly. Though personally little known, Morelly's La Code de la Nature, published in 1755, was highly influential, going into five more editions by 1773. Morelly had no doubts about the workability of communism; for him there was no problem of laziness or negative incentive, and therefore no need for the creation of a New Socialist Man.

To Morelly, man is everywhere good, altruistic, and dedicated to work; only institutions are degrading and corrupt, specifically the institution of private property. Abolish that, and man's natural goodness would easily triumph. (Query: where did these corrupt human institutions come from, if not from man?)

Similarly, for Morelly, as for Marx and Lenin after him, the administration of the communist utopia would be absurdly easy as well. Assigning to every person his task in life, and deciding what material goods and services would fulfill his needs, would apparently be a trivial problem for a Ministry of Labor or of Consumption. For Morelly, all this is merely a matter of trivial enumeration, listing things and persons.

And yet, somehow things are not going to be that easy in the Morelly utopia. While Mably the pessimist was apparently willing to leave society to the voluntary actions of individuals, the optimist Morelly was cheerfully prepared to employ brutally coercive methods to keep all of his "naturally good" citizens in line. Morelly worked out an intricate design for his proposed ideal government and society, allegedly based on the evident dictates of natural law, and most of which was supposed to be changeless and eternal.

In particular, there was to be no private property, except for daily needs; every person was to be maintained and employed by the collective. Every man is to be forced to work, to contribute to the communal storehouse, according to his talents, and then will be assigned goods from these stores according to his presumed needs.

Marriages are to be compulsory, and children are to be brought up communally, and absolutely identically in food, clothing, and training. Philosophic and religious doctrines are to be absolutely prescribed; no differences are to be tolerated; and children are not to be corrupted by any "fable, story, or ridiculous fictions." All trade or barter is to be forbidden by "inviolable law." All buildings are to be the same, and grouped in equal blocks; all clothing is to be made out of the same fabric (a proposal prophetic of Mao's China). Occupations are to be limited and strictly assigned by the State.

Finally, the imposed laws are to be held sacred and inviolable, and anyone attempting to change them is to be isolated and incarcerated for life.

It should be clear that these utopias are debased, secularized versions of the visions of the Christian millennialists. Not only is there no ordained agency of social change to achieve this end state, but they lack the glitter of messianic rule or glorification of God to disguise the fact that these utopias are static states, in which, as Gray puts it,

Nothing ever happens; no one ever disagrees with any one; the government, whatever its form may be, is always so wisely guided that there may be room for gratitude but never for criticism. Nothing happens, nothing can happen in any of them.

Gray concludes that even though, according to the utopian writers, "we are assured that never was there such a happy population … in fact no Utopia has ever been described in which any sane man would on any conditions consent to live, if he could possibly escape."[32]

We must not think, however, that Christian communist millennialism had disappeared. On the contrary, heretical Christian messianism was also revived in the stormy times of the middle and late 18th century. Thus, the Swabian Pietist Johann Christoph Otinger, in the mid-18th century, prophesied a coming theocratic world-kingdom of saints, living communally, without rank or property, as members of a millennial Christian commonwealth.

Particularly influential among later German Pietists was the French mystic and theosophist Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, who in his influential Des Erreurs et la Verite (1773) portrayed an "inner church of the elect" allegedly existing since the dawn of history, which soon would take power in the coming age. This "Martinist" theme was developed by the Rosicrucian movement, concentrated in Bavaria. Originally alchemist mystics during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bavarian Rosicrucians began to stress the coming to world power by the church of the Elect during the dawning millennial age.

The most influential Bavarian Rosicrucian author, Carl von Eckartshausen, expounded on this theme in two widely read works, Information on Magic (1788–1792) and On Perfectibility (1797). In the latter work, he developed the idea that the inner church of the Elect had existed backward in time to Abraham and then went forward to a world government ruled by these keepers of the divine light.

The third and final Age of History, the Age of the Holy Spirit, was now at hand. The illuminated Elect destined to rule the new, communal world order were, fairly obviously, the Rosicrucian Order, since the major evidence for the dawn of the Third Age being imminent was the rapid spread of Martinism and Rosicrucianism itself.

And these movements were indeed spreading during the 1780s and 1790s. The Prussian King Frederick William II and a large portion of his court were converted to Rosicrucianism in the late 1780s, as was the Russian Czar Paul I a decade later, based on his reading of Saint-Martin and Eckartshausen, both of whom Paul considered to be transmitters of divine revelation. Saint-Martin was also influential through his leadership of the Scottish Rite Masonry in Lyons, and was the major figure in what might be called the apocalyptic-Christian wing of the Masonic movement.[33]

The leading communist movement during the French Revolution, however, was secularized. The ideas of Mably and Morelly could not hope to be embodied in reality in the absence of a concrete ideological movement, and the task of applying these ideas in movement form was seized by a young journalist and commissioner of land deeds in Picardy, Francois Noel ("Caius Gracchus") Babeuf, who came to Paris at the age of 26 in 1790, and imbibed the heady revolutionary atmosphere in that city.

By 1793, Babeuf was committed to egalitarianism and communism; two years later, he founded the secret Conspiracy of the Equals, a conspiratorial revolutionary organization dedicated to the achievement of communism. The Conspiracy was organized around his new journal, The Tribune of the People. The Tribune, in a prefigurement of Lenin's Iskra a century later, was used to set a coherent line for his cadre as well as for his public followers. Babeuf's Tribune "was the first journal in history to be the legal arm of an extralegal revolutionary conspiracy."[34]

The ultimate ideal of Babeuf and his conspiracy was absolute equality. Nature, they claimed, calls for perfect equality; all inequality is injustice; therefore community of property is to be established. As the Conspiracy proclaimed emphatically in its Manifesto of Equals – by one of Babeuf's top aides, Sylvain Marechal – "We demand real equality, or Death; that is what we must have." "For its sake," the Manifesto went on, "we are ready for anything; we are willing to sweep everything away. Let all the arts vanish, if necessary, as long as genuine equality remains for us."

In the ideal communist society sought by the Conspiracy, private property would be abolished, and all property would be communal, and stored in communal storehouses. From these storehouses, goods would be distributed "equitably" by the superiors – oddly enough, there would apparently be a cadre of "superiors" in this "equal" world! There was to be universal compulsory labor, "serving the fatherland by useful labor." Teachers or scientists "must submit certifications of loyalty" to the superiors.

The Manifesto acknowledged that there would be an enormous expansion of government officials and bureaucrats in the communist world, inevitable where "the fatherland takes control of an individual from his birth till his death." There would be severe punishments consisting of forced labor against "persons of either sex who set society a bad example by absence of civic-mindedness, by idleness, a luxurious way of life, licentiousness." These punishments, described, as one historian notes, "lovingly and in great detail"[35] consisted of deportation to prison islands.

Freedom of speech and the press are treated as one might expect. The press would not be allowed to "endanger the justice of equality" or to subject the Republic "to interminable and fatal discussions." Moreover, "No one will be allowed to utter views that are in direct contradiction to the sacred principles of equality and the sovereignty of the people." In point of fact, a work would only be allowed to appear in print "if the guardians of the will of the nation consider that its publication may benefit the Republic."

All meals would be eaten in public in every commune, and there would, of course, be compulsory attendance imposed on all community members. Furthermore, everyone could only obtain "his daily ration" in the district in which he lives; the only exception would be "when he is traveling with the permission of the administration." All private entertainment would be "strictly forbidden," lest "imagination, released from the supervision of a strict judge, should engender abominable vices contrary to the commonweal." And, as for religion, "all so-called revelation ought to be banned by law."

Important as an influence on later Marxism-Leninism was not only the communist goal, but also Babeuf's strategic theory and practice in the concrete organization of revolutionary activity. The unequal, the Babouvists proclaimed, must be despoiled, the poor must rise up and sack the rich.

Above all, the French Revolution must be "completed" and redone; there must be total upheaval (bouleversement total), a total destruction of existing institutions so that a new and perfect world can be built from the rubble. As Babeuf called out, at the conclusion of his own Plebeian Manifesto, "May everything return to chaos, and out of chaos may there emerge a new and regenerated world."[36] Indeed, the Plebian Manifesto, published slightly earlier than the Manifesto of Equals in November 1795, was the first in a line of revolutionary manifestos that would reach a climax in Marx's Communist Manifesto a half century later.

The two Manifestos, the Plebeian and the Equals, revealed an important difference between Babeuf and Marechal which might have caused a split had not the Equals been crushed soon afterward by police repression. For in his Plebeian Manifesto, Babeuf had begun to move toward Christian messianism, not only paying tribute to Moses and Joshua, but also particularly to Jesus Christ as his, Babeuf's, "coathlete." In prison, furthermore, Babeuf had written A New History of the Life of Jesus Christ. Most of the Equals, however, were militant atheists, spearheaded by Marechal, who liked to refer to himself with the grandiose acronym l'HSD, l'homme sans Dieu [the Man without God].

In addition to the idea of a conspiratorial revolution, Babeuf, fascinated by military matters, began to develop the idea of people's guerilla warfare: of the revolution being formed in separate "phalanxes" by people whose permanent occupation would be making revolution – whom Lenin would later call "professional revolutionaries." He also toyed with the idea of military phalanxes securing a geographical base, and then working outward from there.

A secret, conspiratorial inner circle, a phalanx of professional revolutionaries – inevitably this meant that Babeuf's strategic perspective for his revolution embodied some fascinating paradoxes. For in the name of a goal of harmony and perfect equality, the revolutionaries were to be led by a hierarchy commanding total obedience; the inner cadre would work its will over the masses. An absolute leader, heading an all-powerful cadre, would, at the proper moment, give the signal to usher in a society of perfect equality. Revolution would be made to end all further revolutions; an all-powerful hierarchy would be necessary, allegedly to put an end to hierarchy forever.

But of course, there was no real paradox here because Babeuf and his cadre harbored no real intention to eliminate hierarchy. The paeans to "equality" were a flimsy camouflage for the real objective – a permanently entrenched and absolute dictatorship.

After suffering police repression at the end of February, 1796, the Conspiracy of the Equals went further underground, and, a month later, constituted themselves as the Secret Directory of Public Safety. The seven secret directors, meeting every evening, reached collective and anonymous decisions, and then each member of this central committee radiated activity outward to 12 "instructors," each of whom mobilized a broader insurrectionary group in one of the 12 districts of Paris.

In this way, the Conspiracy managed to mobilize 17,000 Parisians, but the group was betrayed by the eagerness of the secret directorate to recruit within the army. An informer led to the arrest of Babeuf on May 10, followed by the destruction of the Conspiracy of the Equals. Babeuf was executed the following year.

Police repression, however, almost always leaves pockets of dissidents to rise again, and the new carrier of the torch of revolutionary communism became a Babouvist who was arrested with the leader but managed to avoid execution. Filippo Guiseppe Maria Lodovico Buonarroti was the oldest son of an aristocratic but impoverished Florentine family, and a direct descendant of the great Michelangelo. Studying law at the University of Pisa in the early 1780s, Buonarroti was converted by disciples of Morelly on the Pisa faculty.

As a radical journalist and editor, Buonarroti then participated in battles for the French Revolution against Italian troops. In the spring of 1794, he was put in charge of the French occupation in the Italian town of Oneglia, where he announced to the people that all men must be equal, and that any distinction whatever among men is a violation of natural law. Back in Paris, Buonarroti successfully defended himself in a trial against his use of terror in Oneglia, and finally plunged into Babeuf's Conspiracy of Equals. His friendship with Napoleon allowed him to escape execution, and eventually to be shipped from a prison camp to exile in Geneva.

For the rest of his life, Buonarroti became what his modern biographer calls "The First Professional Revolutionist," trying to set up revolutions and conspiratorial organizations throughout Europe. Before the execution of Babeuf and others, Buonarroti had pledged his comrades to write their full story, and he fulfilled that pledge when, at the age of 67, he published in Belgium The Conspiracy for Equality of Babeuf (1828).

Babeuf and his comrades had been long forgotten, and this massive work now told the first and most thoroughgoing narrative of the Babouvist saga. The book proved to be an inspiration to revolutionary and communist groupings, and sold extremely well, the English translation of 1836 selling 50,000 copies in a short space of time. For the last decade of his life, the previously obscure Buonarroti was lionized throughout the European ultra-Left.

Brooding over previous revolutionary failures, Buonarroti counseled the need for iron elite rule immediately after the coming to power of the revolutionary forces. In short, the power of the revolution must be immediately given over to a "strong, constant, enlightened immovable will," which will "direct all the force of the nation against internal and external enemies," and very gradually prepare the people for their sovereignty. The point, for Buonarroti, was that "the people are incapable either of regeneration by themselves or of designating the people who should direct the regeneration."

The Burgeoning of Communism in the 1830s and 1840s

The 1830s and 1840s saw the burgeoning of messianic and chiliastic communist and socialist groups throughout Europe: notably in France, Belgium, Germany, and England. Owenites, Cabetists, Fourieriets, Saint-Simonians, and many others sprouted and interacted, and we need not examine them or their nuanced variations in detail. While the Welshman Robert Owen was the first to use the word "socialist" in print in 1827, and also toyed with "communionist," the word "communist" finally caught on as the most popular label for the new system.

It was first used in popular printed work in Étienne Cabet's utopian novel, Voyage in Icaria (1839),[37] and from there the word spread like wildfire across Europe, spurred by the recent development of a regular steamboat mail service and the first telegraphy. When Marx and Engels, in the famous opening sentence of their Communist Manifesto of 1848, wrote that "A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism," this was a bit of hyperbolic rhetoric, but still was not far off the mark. As Billington writes, the talismanic word "communism" "spread throughout the continent with a speed altogether unprecedented in the history of such verbal epidemics."[38]

Amid this welter of individuals and groups, some interesting ones stand out. The earliest German exile group of revolutionaries was the League of the Outlaws, founded in Paris by Theodore Schuster, under the inspiration of the writings of Buonarroti. Schuster's pamphlet, Confession of Faith of an Outlaw (1834) was perhaps the first projection of the coming revolution as a creation of the outlaws and marginal outcasts of society, those outside the circuit of production, whom Marx would understandably dismiss brusquely as the "lumpenproletariat." The lumpen were later emphasized in the 1840s by the leading anarchocommunist, the Russian Mikhail Bakunin, foreshadowing various strains of the New Left during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Outlaws was the first international organization of communist revolutionaries, comprised of about 100 members in Paris and almost 80 in Frankfurt am Main. The League of Outlaws, however, disintegrated about 1838; many members, including Schuster himself, going off into nationalist agitation. But the League was succeeded quickly by a larger group of German exiles, the League of the Just, also headquartered in Paris.

The German communist groups always tended to be more Christian than the other nationalities. Thus, Karl Schapper, leader of the Paris headquarters section of the League of the Just, addressed his followers as "Brothers in Christ," and hailed the coming social revolution as "the great resurrection day of the people."

Intensifying the religious tone of the League of the Just was the prominent German communist, the tailor Wilhelm Weitling. In the manifesto that he wrote for the League of the Just, Humanity as it is and as it ought to be (1838), which though secret was widely disseminated and discussed, Weitling proclaimed himself a "social Luther," and denounced money as the source of all corruption and exploitation. All private property and all money was to be abolished and the value of all products to be calculated in "labor-hours" – the labor theory of value taken all too seriously. For work in public utilities and heavy industry, Weitling proposed to mobilize a centralized "industrial army," fueled by the conscription of every man and woman between the ages of 15 and 18.

Expelled from France after revolutionary troubles in 1839, the League of the Just moved to London, where it also established a broader front group, the Educational Society for German Working-men in 1840. The three top leaders of the Society, Karl Schapper, Bruno Bauer, and Joseph Moll, managed to raise their total to over 1000 members by 1847, including 250 members in other countries in Europe and Latin America.

A fascinating contrast is presented by two young communists, both leaders of the movement during the 1840s, and both of whom have been almost totally forgotten by later generations – even by most historians. Each represented a different side of the communist perspective, two different strands of the movement.

One was the English Christian visionary and fantast, John Goodwyn Barmby. At the age of 20, Barmby, then an Owenite, arrived in Paris in 1840 with a proposal to set up an International Association of Socialists throughout the world. A provisional committee was actually formed, headed by the French Owenite Jules Gay, but nothing came of the scheme. The plan did, however, prefigure the First International.

More importantly, in Paris Barmby discovered the word "communist," and adopted and spread it with enormous fervor. To Barmby, "communist" and "communitarian" were interchangeable terms, and he helped organize throughout France what he reported to the English Owenites were "social banquet(s) of the Communist or Communitarian school."

Back in England, Barmby's fervor was undiminished. He founded a Communist Propaganda Society, soon to be called the Universal Communitarian Society, and established a journal, The Promethean or Communitarian Apostle, soon renamed The Communist Chronicle. Communism, to Barmby, was both the "societarian science" and the final religion of humanity. His Credo, propounded in the first issue of The Promethean, avowed that "the divine is communism, that the demonic is individualism."

After that flying start, Barmby wrote communist hymns and prayers, and called for the building of Communitariums, all directed by a supreme Communarchy headed by an elected Communarch and Communarchess. Barmby repeatedly proclaimed "the religion of Communism," and made sure to begin things right by naming himself "Pontifarch of the Communist Church."

The subtitle of The Communist Chronicle revealed its neo-Christian messianism: "The Apostle of the Communist Church and the Communitive Life: Communion with God, Communion of the Saints, Communion of Suffrages, Communion of Works and Communion of Goods." The struggle for communism, declared Barmby, was apocalyptic, bound to end with the mystical reunion of Satan into God:

In the holy Communist Church, the devil will be converted into God. And in this conversion of Satan doth God call peoples … in that communion of suffrages, of works, and of goods both spiritual and material … for these latter days.[39]

The arrival in London of Wilhelm Weitling in 1844 led him and Barmby to collaborate on promoting Christian communism, but by the end of 1847, they had lost out and the communist movement was shifting decisively toward atheism.

The crucial turn came in June 1847, when the two most atheistic of communist groups – the League of the Just in London, and the small, 15-man Communist Correspondence Committee of Brussels, headed by Karl Marx, merged to form the Communist League. At its second congress in December, ideological struggles within the League were resolved when Marx was asked to write the statement for the new party, to become the famed Communist Manifesto.

Cabet and Weitling, throwing in the towel, each left permanently for the United States in 1848, to try to establish communism there. Both attempts foundered ignominiously amid America's expanding and highly individualistic society. Cabet's Icarians settled in Texas and then Nauvoo, Illinois, then split and split again, until Cabet, ejected by his former followers in Nauvoo, left for St. Louis and died, spurned by nearly everyone, in 1856.

As for Weitling, he gave up more rapidly. In New York, he became a follower of Josiah Warren's individualistic though Left-Ricardian labor-money scheme, and in 1854 he deviated further to become a bureaucrat with the US Immigration Service, spending most of his remaining 17 years trying to promote his various inventions. Apparently, Weitling, willy-nilly, had at last "voted with his feet" to join the capitalist order.

Meanwhile, Goodwyn Barmby sequestered himself on one after another of the Channel Islands to try to found a utopian community, and denounced a former follower for setting up a more practical Communist Journal as "an infringement of his copyright" on the word "communism." Gradually, however, Barmby abandoned his universalism and began to call himself a "National Communist." Finally, in 1848, he went to France, became a Unitarian minister and friend of Mazzini's and abandoned communism for revolutionary nationalism.

On the other hand, a leading, young, French communist, Theodore Dezamy, represented a competing strain of militant atheism and a tough, cadre approach. In his early youth the personal secretary of Cabet, Dezamy led the sudden communist boom launched in 1839 and 1840. By the following year, Dezamy became perhaps the founder of the Marxist-Leninist tradition of ideologically and politically excommunicating all deviationists from the correct line. In fact, in 1842, Dezamy, a highly prolific pamphleteer, turned bitterly on his old mentor, Cabet, and denounced him, in his Slanders and Politics of Mr. Cabet, for chronic vacillation. In Slanders, Dezamy, for the first time, argued that ideological as well as political discipline is requisite for the communist movement.

More importantly, Dezamy wanted to purge French communism of the influence of the quasi-religious poetic and moralistic communist code propounded by Cabet in his Voyage in Icaria and especially in his Communist Credo of 1841. Dezamy therefore countered with his Code of the Community the following year. Dezamy attempted to be severely "scientific" and claimed that communist revolution was both rational and inevitable. It is no wonder that Dezamy was greatly admired by Marx.

Furthermore, pacific or gradual measures were to be rejected. Dezamy insisted that a communist revolution must confiscate all private property and all money immediately. Half measures will satisfy no one, he claimed, and, furthermore, as Billington paraphrases it, "Swift and total change would be less bloody than a slow process, since communism releases the natural goodness of man."[40] It was from Dezamy, too, that Marx adopted the absurdly simplistic view that the operation of communism was merely a clerical task of bookkeeping and registration of people and resources.[41]

Not only would revolutionary communism be immediate and total; it would also be global and universal. In the future communist world, there will be one global "congress of humanity," one single language, and a single labor service called "industrial athletes," who will perform work in the form of communal youth festivals. Moreover, the new "universal country" would abolish not only "narrow" nationalism but also such divisive loyalties as the family.

In stark practical contrast to his own career as ideological excommunicator, Dezamy proclaimed that under communism, conflict would be logically impossible: "there can be no splits among Communists; our struggles among ourselves can only be struggles of harmony, or reasoning," since "communitarian principles" constitute "the solution to all problems."

Amidst this militant atheism there was, however, a kind of religious fervor and even faith. For Dezamy spoke of "this sublime devotion which constitutes socialism," and he urged proletarians to reenter "the egalitarian church, outside of which there can be no salvation."

Dezamy's arrest and trial in 1844 inspired German communists in Paris such as Arnold Ruge, Moses Hess, and Karl Marx. Hess began to work on a German translation of Dezamy's Code, under the encouragement of Marx, who proclaimed the Code "scientific, socialist, materialist, and real humanist."[42]

Continues in Part 3

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