The key to
the intricate and massive system of thought created by Karl Marx
is at bottom a simple one: Karl Marx was a communist.
trite and banal statement set alongside Marxism’s myriad of jargon-ridden
concepts in philosophy, economics, and culture, yet Marx’s devotion
to communism was his crucial focus, far more central than the class
struggle, the dialectic, the theory of surplus value, and all the
the great goal, the vision, the desideratum, the ultimate end that
would make the sufferings of mankind throughout history worthwhile.
History was the history of suffering, of class struggle, of the
exploitation of man by man. In the same way as the return of the
Messiah, in Christian theology, will put an end to history and establish
a new heaven and a new earth, so the establishment of communism
would put an end to human history.
And just as
for postmillennial Christians, man, led by God’s prophets and saints,
will establish a Kingdom of God on Earth (for premillennials, Jesus
will have many human assistants in setting up such a kingdom), so,
for Marx and other schools of communists, mankind, led by a vanguard
of secular saints, will establish a secularized Kingdom of Heaven
religious movements, the millennium is invariably established by
a mighty, violent upheaval, an Armageddon, a great apocalyptic war
between good and evil. After this titanic conflict, a millennium,
a new age of peace and harmony, of the reign of justice, will be
installed upon the earth.
rejected those utopian socialists who sought to arrive at communism
through a gradual and evolutionary process, through a steady advancement
of the good. Instead, Marx harked back to the apocalyptics, the
postmillennial coercive German and Dutch Anabaptists of the 16th
century, to the millennial sects during the English Civil War, and
to the various groups of premillennial Christians who foresaw a
bloody Armageddon at the Last Days, before the millennium could
the apocalyptic post-mils refused to wait for a gradual goodness
and sainthood to permeate mankind, they joined the pre-mils in believing
that only a violent, apocalyptic, final struggle between good and
evil, between saints and sinners, could usher in the millennium.
Violent, worldwide revolution, in Marx’s version to be made by the
oppressed proletariat, would be the inevitable instrument for the
advent of his millennium, communism.
In fact, Marx,
like the pre-mils (or “millenarians”), went further to hold that
the reign of evil on earth would reach a peak just before the apocalypse
(“the darkness before the dawn”). For Marx as for the millenarians,
writes Ernest Tuveson,
of the world must proceed to its height before, in one great
complete root-and-branch upheaval, it would be swept away….
pessimism about the perfectibility of the existing world is
crossed by a supreme optimism. History, the millenarian believes,
so operates that, when evil has reached its height, the hopeless
situation will be reversed. The original, the true harmonious
state of society, in some kind of egalitarian order, will be
to the various groups of utopian socialists, and in common with
religious messianists, Karl Marx did not sketch the features of
his future communism in any detail. It was not for Marx, for example,
to spell out the number of people in his utopia, the shape and location
of their houses, or the pattern of their cities. In the first place,
there is a quintessentially crackpotty air to utopias that are mapped
by their creators in precise detail. But of equal importance, spelling
out the details of one’s ideal society removes the crucial element
of awe and mystery from the allegedly inevitable world of the future.
features are broadly alike in all visions of communism. Private
property is eliminated, individualism goes by the board, individuality
is flattened, all property is owned and controlled communally, and
the individual units of the new collective organism are in some
way made “equal” to one another.
scholars of Marxism have tended to overlook the centrality of communism
to the entire Marxian system.
In the “official” Marxism of the 1930s and 1940s, communism was
slighted in favor of an allegedly “scientific” stress on the labor
theory of value, the class struggle, or the materialist interpretation
of history. And the Soviet Union, even before Gorbachev, grappling
with the practical problems of socialism, treated the goal of communism
as more of an embarrassment than anything else.
Stalinists such as Louis Althusser dismissed the pre-1848 Marx’s
stress on “humanism,” philosophy, and “alienation,” as unscientific
and pre-Marxist. On the other hand, in the 1960s it became fashionable
for New Left Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse to dismiss the later
“scientific economist” Marx as a rationalistic prelude to despotism
and a betrayal of the earlier Marx’s stress on humanism and human
I hold with the growing consensus in Marxist studies
that, at least since 1844 and possibly earlier, there was only one
Marx, and that Marx, the “humanist,” established the goal that he
would seek for the remainder of his life: the apocalyptic triumph
of revolutionary communism. In this view, Marx’s exploration later
into the economics of capitalism was merely a quest for the mechanism,
the “law of history,” that allegedly makes such a triumph inevitable.
But in that
case, it becomes vital to investigate the nature of this allegedly
humanistic goal of communism, what the meaning of this “freedom”
might be, and whether or not the grisly record of Marxist-Leninist
regimes in the 20th century was implicit in the basic Marxian conception
is a religious creed. This statement has been common among
critics of Marx, and since Marxism is an explicit enemy of religion,
such a seeming paradox would offend many Marxists, since it clearly
challenged the allegedly hard-headed scientific materialism on which
Marxism rested. In the present day, oddly enough, an age of liberation
theology and other flirtations between Marxism and the Church, Marxists
themselves are often quick to make this same proclamation.
one obvious way in which Marxism functions as a religion is the
lengths to which Marxists will go to preserve their system against
obvious errors or fallacies. Thus, when Marxian predictions fail
even though they are allegedly derived from scientific laws of history,
Marxists go to great lengths to change the terms of the
example is Marx’s law of the impoverishment of the working class
under capitalism. When it became all too clear that the standard
of living of the workers under industrial capitalism was rising
instead of falling, Marxists fell back on the view that what Marx
“really” meant by impoverishment was not immiseration but relative
deprivation. One of the problems with this fallback defense is that
impoverishment is supposed to be the motor of the proletarian revolution,
and it is difficult to envision the workers resorting to bloody
revolution because they only enjoy one yacht apiece while capitalists
enjoy five or six.
example was the response of many Marxists to Böhm-Bawerk’s
conclusive demonstration that the labor theory of value could not
account for the pricing of goods under capitalism. Again, the fallback
response was that what Marx “really meant”
was not to explain market pricing at all, but merely to assert that
labor hours embed some sort of mystically inherent “values” into
goods that are, however, irrelevant to the workings of the capitalist
market. If this were true, then it is difficult to see why Marx
labored for a great part of his life in an unsuccessful attempt
to complete Capital and to solve the value-price problem.
most appropriate commentary on the frantic defenders of Marx’s value
theory is that of the ever witty and delightful Alexander Gray,
who also touches on another aspect of Marx as religious prophet:
Böhm-Bawerk or Mr. [H. W. B.] Joseph carving up Marx is
but a pedestrian pleasure; for these are but pedestrian writers,
who are so pedestrian as to clutch at the plain meaning of words,
not realising that what Marx really meant has no necessary connection
with what Marx undeniably said. To witness Marx surrounded by
his friends is, however, a joy of an entirely different order.
For it is fairly clear that none of them really knows what Marx
really meant; they are even in considerable doubt as to what
he was talking about; there are hints that Marx himself did
not know what he was doing.
there is no one to tell us what Marx thought he meant by “value.”
Capital is, in one sense, a three-volume treatise,
expounding a theory of value and its manifold applications.
Yet Marx never condescends to say what he means by “value,”
which accordingly is what anyone cares to make it as he follows
the unfolding scroll from 1867 to 1894….
concerned with Wissenschaft, slogans, myths, or incantations?
Marx, it has been said, was a prophet … and perhaps this suggestion
provides the best approach. One does not apply to Jeremiah or
Ezekiel the tests to which less-inspired men are subjected.
Perhaps the mistake the world and most of the critics have made
is just that they have not sufficiently regarded Marx as a prophet
— a man above logic, uttering cryptic and incomprehensible words,
which every man may interpret as he chooses.
But the nature
of Marxism as religion cuts deeper than the follies and evasions
or the cryptic and often unintelligible nature of Marxian writings.
For it is the contention of this article that the crucial goal —
communism — is an atheized version of a certain type of religious
eschatology; that the alleged inevitable process of getting there
— the dialectic — is an atheistic form of the same religious laws
of history; and that the supposedly central problem of capitalism
as perceived by “humanist” Marxists, the problem of “alienation,”
is an atheistic version of the selfsame religion’s metaphysical
grievance at the entire created universe.
As far as I
know, there is no commonly-agreed-upon name to designate this fatefully
influential religion. One name is “process theology,” but I shall
rather call it “reabsorption theology,” for the word “reabsorption”
highlights the allegedly inevitable end point of human history as
well as its supposed starting point in a precreation union with
As Leszek Kolakowski
points out in his monumental work on Marxism, reabsorption theology
begins with the 3rd-century Greek philosopher Plotinus, and moves
from Plotinus to some of the Christian Platonists, where it takes
its place as a Christian heresy. That heresy tends to bubble up
repeatedly from beneath the surface in the works of such Christian
mystics as the 19th-century philosopher John Scotus Erigena and
the 14th-century Meister Johannes Eckhart.
and profound implications of reabsorption theology may best be grasped
by contrasting this heresy to Christian orthodoxy. We begin at the
beginning — with creatology, the science or discipline
of the first days. Why did God create the universe? The orthodox
Christian answer is that God created the universe out of a benevolent
and overflowing love for his creatures. Creation was therefore good
The fly in
the ointment was introduced by man’s disobedience to God’s laws,
for which sin he was cast out of Eden. Out of this Fall he can be
redeemed by the Incarnation of God in human flesh and the sacrifice
of Jesus on the Cross. Note that the Fall was a moral one, and that
creation itself remains metaphysically good. Note, too, that in
orthodox Christianity, each human individual, made in the image
of God, is of supreme importance, and each individual’s salvation
becomes of critical concern.
theology, however, originates in a very different creatology. One
of its crucial tenets is that, before creation, man — obviously
the collective-species man and not each individual — existed in
happy union, in some sort of mighty cosmic blob, united with God
and even with nature. In the Christian view, God, unlike man, is
perfect, and therefore does not, like man, perform actions in order
to improve his lot. But for the reabsorptionists, God acts analogously
with humans: God acts out of what Mises called “felt uneasiness,”
out of dissatisfaction with his current lot. God, in other words,
creates the universe out of loneliness, dissatisfaction, or, generally,
in order to develop his undeveloped faculties. God creates the universe
out of felt need.
In the reabsorptionist
view, creation, instead of being wondrous and good, is essentially
and metaphysically evil. For it generates diversity, individuality,
and separateness, and thereby cuts off man from his beloved cosmic
union with God. Man is now permanently “alienated” from God, the
fundamental alienation; and also from other men, and from nature.
It is this
cosmic metaphysical separateness that lies at the heart of the Marxian
concept of “alienation,” and not, as we might now think,
personal griping about not controlling the operation of one’s factory,
or about lack of access to wealth or political power. Alienation
is a cosmic condition and not a psychological complaint. For the
reabsorptionists, the crucial problems of the world come not from
moral failure but from the essential nature of creation itself.
various pantheistic religions, as well as many mystics, offer one
partial way out for this cosmic alienation. To such pantheists,
God-Man-and-Nature are and continue to be one, and individual men
can recapture that desired unity by various forms of training until
Nirvana (nothingness) has been achieved and the individual ego has
been — at least temporarily — obliterated.
But the way
out offered by the reabsorptionists is different. First, it is a
way offered only to man-as-species and not to any particular individual;
and second, the way is a religiously determined and inevitable law
of history. For there is one good aspect of creation for the reabsorptionists:
that God and man each get to fulfill their faculties and expand
their respective potentials through history. In fact, history is
a process by which these potentials are fulfilled, in which God
and man both perfect themselves.
— and here we come to eschatology, the science of the Last
Days — there will eventually be a mighty reunion, a reabsorption,
in which man and God are at last not only reunited, but reunited
on a higher, on a perfected level. The two cosmic blobs — God and
man (and presumably nature too) — now meet and merge on a more exalted
level. The painful state of creation is now over, alienation is
at last ended, and man returns Home to be on a higher, postcreation
level. History, and the world, have come to an end.
A crucial feature
of reabsorption is that all this “perfecting” and “reuniting” obviously
takes place only on a species-collectivist level. The individual
man is nothing, a mere cell in the great, collective-organism man;
only in that way can we say that “man” progresses or fulfills “himself”
over the centuries, suffers alienation from “his” precreation state,
and finally “returns” to unity with God on a higher level. The relation
to the Marxian goal of communism is already becoming clear; the
“alienation” eliminated by the inevitable communist end of history
is that of the collective-species man, each man being finally united
with other men and with nature (which, for Marx, was “created” by
the collective-species man, who thereby replaces God as the creator).
I shall deal
later with communism as the goal of history. Here we focus on the
process by which all these events must take place, and
necessarily take place. First, there is the precreation cosmic blob.
Out of this blob there then arises a very different state of affairs:
a created universe, with God, individual men, and nature each existing.
Here are the
origins of the magical Hegelian-Marxian “dialectic”: one state of
affairs somehow gives rise to a contrasting state. In the
German language, Hegel, the master of the concept of the dialectic,
used the crucial term aufhebung, a “lifting up,” which
is ambiguous enough to encompass this sudden shift into a very different
state, this lifting up which is at one and the same time a preserving,
a transcending, and a creating a stark contrast to, the original
condition. The standard English translation for this process in
Hegel and Marx is “negating,” but such translation makes the theory
even more absurd than it really is — probably “transcending” would
be a better term.
Thus, as usual,
the dialectic consists of three stages. Stage One is the original
state of the precreation cosmic blob, with man and God in happy
and harmonious unity, but each rather undeveloped. Then, the magic
dialectic does its work, Stage Two occurs, and God creates man and
the universe. But then, finally, when the development of man and
God is completed, Stage Two creates its own aufhebung,
its transcendence into its opposite or negation: in short, Stage
Three, the reunion of God and man in an “ecstasy of union,” and
the end of history.
process by which one state of affairs gives rise to a very different
state, if not its opposite, is, for the reabsorptionists, a mystical
though inevitable development. There was no need for them to explain
the mechanism. Indeed, particularly influential for Hegel and later
reabsorptionist thinkers was one of the later Christian mystics
in this tradition: the early 17th-century German cobbler Jakob Böhme.
Pantheizing the dialectic, Böhme declared that it was not God’s
will but some primal force that launched the cosmic dialectic of
creation and history.
asked, did the world of precreation transcend itself into creation?
Before creation, he answered, there was a primal source, an eternal
unity, an undifferentiated, indistinct, literal Nothing [Ungrund].
Oddly enough, this Nothing possessed within itself an inner striving,
a nisus, a drive for self-realization. That drive, Böhme
asserted, gave rise to its opposite, the Will, the interaction of
which with nisus transformed the Nothing into the Something
of the created universe.
by Jakob Böhme was the mystical English communist, Gerrard Winstanley,
founder of the Digger sect during the English Civil War. Son of
a textile merchant who had failed in the cloth business and then
had sunk to the status of agricultural laborer, Winstanley, in early
1649, had a mystical vision of the ideal communist world of the
future. Originally, according to this vision, a version of God had
created the universe; but the spirit of “selfishness,” the Devil
itself, had entered into man and brought about private property
and a market economy.
The curse of
the self, opined Winstanley, was “the beginner of particular interest,”
or private property, with men buying and selling and saying, “This
is mine.” The end of original communism and its breakup into private
property meant that universal liberty was gone, and creation brought
“under the curse of bondage, sorrow, and tears.” In England, Winstanley
absurdly held, property had been communist until the Norman Conquest
of 1066, which created the institution of private property.
But soon, declared
Winstanley, universal “love” would eliminate private property, and
would thus restore the earth to “a common property as it was in
the beginning … making the earth one storehouse, and every man and
woman to live … as members of one household.” This communism and
absolute equality of possessions would thus bring to the world the
millennium, “a new heaven, and a new earth.”
At first, Winstanley
believed that little or no coercion would be necessary for establishing
and maintaining his communist society. Soon, however, he realized,
in the completed draft of his utopia, that all wage labor and all
commerce would have to be prohibited on the penalty of death. Winstanley
was quite willing to go this far with his program. Everyone was
to contribute to, and take from, the common storehouse, and the
death penalty was to be levied on all use of money, and on any buying
or selling. The “sin” of idleness would of course be combated by
forced labor for the benefit of the communist community.
stress on the executioner makes particularly grisly the declaration
of Winstanley that “all punishments that are to be inflicted … are
only such as to make the offender … to live in the community of
the righteous law of love one with another.” Education in “love”
was to be insured by free and compulsory schooling conducted by
the state, mainly in useful crafts rather than in liberal arts,
as well as by “ministers” elected by the public to preach secular
sermons upholding the new system.
as Pantheist Reabsorptionist
that Marx was essentially a Hegelian in philosophy, but the precise
scope of Hegel’s influence on Marx is less well understood. Hegel’s
dubious accomplishment was to completely pantheize reabsorption
theology. It is little realized that Hegel was only one, although
the most elaborate and hypertrophic, of a host of writers who constituted
the highly influential Romantic movement in Germany and England
at the end of the 18th and during the first half of the 19th centuries.
Hegel was a
theology student at the University of Tübingen, and many of
his fellow Romantics, friends and colleagues, such as Schelling,
Schiller, Holderlin, and Fichte, began as theology students, many
of them at Tübingen.
twist to the reabsorption story was to proclaim that God is in reality
man. Man, or rather the Man-God, created the universe. But man’s
imperfection, his flaw, lay in his failure to realize that he is
God. The Man-God begins his life in history unconscious of the vital
fact that he is God. He is alienated, cut off from the crucial knowledge
that he and God are one, that he created, and continues to empower,
is the inevitable process by which the Man-God develops his faculties,
fulfills his potential, and advances his knowledge, until
that blissful day when man acquires Absolute Knowledge, that is,
the full knowledge and realization that he is God. At that point,
the Man-God finally reaches his potential, becomes an infinite being
without bounds, and thereby puts an end to history. The dialectic
of history occurs, again, in three fundamental stages: the precreation
stage; the postcreation stage of development with alienation; and
the final reabsorption into the state of infinity and absolute self-knowledge,
which culminates, and puts an end to, the historical process.
did Hegel’s Man-God (also termed by Hegel the “world-self” or “world-spirit”
[Weltgeist]) create the universe? Not out of benevolence,
but out of a felt need to become conscious of itself as a world-self.
This process of growing consciousness is achieved through the creative
activity by which the world-self externalizes itself. First, this
externalization occurs by the Man-God creating nature, and next,
by a continuing self-externalization through human history.
civilization, man increases the knowledge of his own divinity; in
that way, through history man gradually puts an end to his own “self-alienation,”
which for Hegel was ipso facto the alienation of man from
God. Crucial to Hegelian doctrine is that man is alienated, and
he perceives the world as hostile, because it is not himself.
All these conflicts are finally resolved when man realizes at long
last that the world really is himself.
But why is
Hegel’s man so odd and neurotic that he regards everything that
is not himself as alien and hostile? The answer is central to the
Hegelian mystique. It is because Hegel, or Hegel’s man, cannot stand
the idea of himself not being God, and therefore not being of infinite
space and without boundary or limit. Seeing any other being or any
other object exist would imply that he himself is not infinite or
divine. In short, Hegel’s philosophy constitutes solipsistic megalomania
on a grand and cosmic scale. Professor Robert C. Tucker describes
the situation with characteristic acuity:
alienation is finitude, and finitude in turn is bondage. The
experience of self-estrangement in the presence of an apparent
objective world is an experience of enslavement…. Spirit, when
confronted with an object or “other,” is ipso facto
aware of itself as merely finite being … as extending only so
far and no farther. The object is, therefore, a “limit” (Grenze).
And a limit, since it contradicts spirit’s notion of itself
as absolute being, i.e., being-without-limit, is necessarily
apprehended as a “barrier” or “fetter” (Schranke)….
In its confrontation with an apparent object, spirit feels imprisoned
in limitation. It experiences what Hegel calls the “sorrow of
quite unique conception of it, freedom means the consciousness
of self as unbounded; it is the absence of a limiting object
the growth of spirit’s self-knowledge in history is alternatively
describable as a progress of the consciousness of freedom.
of history did not simply have three stages; history moved forward
in a series of stages, each one of which was moved forward dramatically
by a process of aufhebung. It is evident that the “man”
who creates the world, who advances his “self”-knowledge, and who
finally “returns” “Home” in an ecstasy of self-knowledge is not
puny individual man, but man as collective species. But, for Hegel,
each stage of advance is propelled by great individuals, “world-historical”
men, who embody the attributes of the Absolute more than others,
and act as significant agents of the next aufhebung, the
lifting up of the Man-God or “world-soul’s” next great advance into
Thus, at a
time when most patriotic Prussians were reacting violently against
Napoleon’s imperial conquests, and mobilizing their forces against
him, Hegel wrote to a friend in ecstasy about having seen Napoleon,
“the Emperor — this world-soul,” riding down the street; for Napoleon,
even if unconsciously, was pursuing the world-historical mission
of bringing a strong Prussian State into being.
It is interesting
that Hegel got his idea of the “cunning of Reason,” of great individuals
acting as unconscious agents of the world-soul through history,
by perusing the works of the Rev. Adam Ferguson, whose phrase about
events being “the product of human action but not of human design,”
has been so influential in the thought of F. A. Hayek and his disciples.
In the economic realm, as well, Hegel learned of the alleged misery
of alienation in separation — that is, specialization and the division
of labor — from Ferguson himself through Friedrich Schiller and
from Ferguson’s good friend, Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations.
It is easy
to see how the reabsorptionist-Hegelian doctrine of unity-good,
separation-bad helped form the Marxian goal of communism, the end
state of history in which the individual is totally absorbed into
the collective, thus attaining the state of true collective-man
“freedom.” But there are also more particular influences. Thus,
the Marxian idea of early or primitive communism, happy and integrated
though undeveloped, and then burst apart by rapacious, alienating
if developing capitalism, was prefigured by Hegel’s historical outlook.
friend and mentor the Romantic writer Friedrich Schiller, Hegel,
in an article written in 1795, lauded the alleged homogeneity, harmony,
and unity of ancient Greece, supposedly free of the alienating division
of labor. The consequent aufhebung, though leading to the
growth of commerce, living standards, and individualism, also destroyed
the wonderful unity of Greece, and radically fragmented man. To
Hegel, the next inevitable stage of history would reintegrate man
and the State.
The State was
critical for Hegel. Again foreshadowing Marx, it is now particularly
important for man — the collective organism — to surmount unconscious,
blind fate, and “consciously” take control of it by means of the
Hegel was quite
insistent that, in order for the State to fulfill its vital function
it must be guided by a comprehensive philosophy, and indeed by a
Great Philosopher, to give its mighty rule the necessary coherence.
Otherwise, as Professor Plant explains, “such a state, devoid of
philosophical comprehension, would appear as a merely arbitrary
and oppressive imposition of the freedom of individuals.” But, on
the contrary, if armed with Hegelian philosophy and with Hegel himself
as its great leader, “this alien aspect of the progressive modern
state would disappear and would be seen not as an imposition but
a development of self-consciousness.”
with such a philosophy and such a philosopher, the modern, especially
the modern Prussian, State could take its divinely appointed stand
at the apex of human history and civilization, as God on earth.
Thus, “The modern State … when comprehended philosophically, could
therefore be seen as the highest articulation of Spirit, or God
in the contemporary world.” The State, then, is “a supreme manifestation
of the activity of God in the world”; “The State is the Divine Idea
as it exists on earth”; “The State is the march of God through the
world”; “The State is the actually existing, realized moral life”;
the “State is the reality of the kingdom of heaven.” And finally,
“The State is God’s Will.”
of all the various forms of State, monarchy — as in contemporary
Prussia — is best, since it permits all its subjects to be “free”
(in the Hegelian sense) by submerging their being into the divine
substance, which is the authoritarian, monarchial State. The people
are only “free” as insignificant particles of this divine substance.
As Tucker writes,
conception of freedom is totalitarian in a literal sense of
the word. The world-self must experience itself as the totality
of being, or in Hegel’s own words must elevate itself to a “self-comprehending
totality,” in order to achieve the consciousness of freedom.
creed thoughtfully provides an escape hatch for the determinist
himself, so that he can rise above the determining factors, expound
his philosophy and convince his fellowmen. Hegel was no exception,
but his was unquestionably the most grandiose of all escape hatches.
For of all the world-historical figures, those embodiments of the
Man-God, who are called on to bring on the next stage of the dialectic,
who can be greater, more in tune with the divinity, than the Great
Philosopher himself, who has brought us the knowledge of this entire
process, and thereby was able to himself complete man’s final comprehension
of the Absolute and of man’s all-encompassing divinity?
And isn’t the
great creator of the crucial philosophy about man and the universe
in a deep sense greater than the philosophy itself? And therefore,
if the species man is God, isn’t he, the great Hegel, in a profound
sense God of Gods?
luck and the dialectic would have it, Hegel was just in time to
take his place as the Great Philosopher in the greatest, the noblest,
and most developed authoritarian State in the history of the world:
the existing Prussian monarchy of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. If
the king would only accept his world-historical mission, Hegel,
arm in arm with the king, would then usher in the final culminating
self-knowledge of the Absolute Man-God. Together, Hegel, aided by
the king, would bring an end to human history.
For his part,
King Friedrich Wilhelm III was all too ready to play his divinely
appointed role. When the reactionary powers took over Prussia in
1815, they needed an official philosopher to call on Prussian subjects
to worship the State, and thereby to combat the French Revolutionary
ideals of individualism, liberty, reason, and natural rights. Hegel
was brought to the great new University of Berlin in 1818 to become
the official philosopher of that academic monument to the authoritarian
influential in Prussia and the Protestant sectors of Germany, Hegelianism
was also akin to, and influential upon, the Romantic writers in
England. Virtually all of Wordsworth’s poetic output was designed
to set forth what he called a “high Romantic argument,” designed
to transcend and counteract Milton’s “heroic” or “great” argument
expounding the orthodox Christian eschatology, in which man, as
individual men, will either return to Paradise or be consigned to
Hell upon the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. To this “argument,”
Wordsworth counterposed his own pantheist vision of the upward spiral
of history in which man, as species, inevitably returns home from
his cosmic alienation.
to the Wordsworthian vision were Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.
It is instructive that all of these men were Christian heretics,
converts from explicitly Christian theology: Wordsworth had been
trained to be an Anglican priest; Coleridge had been a lay preacher,
and was steeped in neo-Platonism and the mystical works of Jakob
Böhme; and Shelley had been absorbed in the study of the Bible.
tempestuous, conservative, statist British writer, Thomas Carlyle,
paid tribute to Hegel’s mentor Friedrich Schiller by writing a biography
of Schiller in 1825. From then on, Carlyle’s influential writings
were to be steeped in the Hegelian vision. Unity is good, diversity
and separateness is evil and diseased; science as well as individualism
constitutes division and dismemberment.
ranted, is alienation from nature, from others, and from oneself.
But one day, Carlyle prophesied, the breakthrough, the world’s spiritual
rebirth, will arrive, led by world-historical figures (“great men”),
through which man will return home to a friendly world by means
of the utter “annihilation of self” (Selbst-todtung).
Past and Present (1843), Carlyle applied his profoundly
anti-individualist vision to economic affairs. He denounced egoism,
material greed, and laissez-faire, which, by fostering man’s severance
from others, had led to a world “which has become a lifeless other,
and in severance also from other human beings within a social order
in which ‘cash payment is … the sole nexus of man with man.’” In
opposition to this evil “cash nexus” lay the familial relation with
nature and fellowmen, the relation of “love.” The stage was set
for Karl Marx.
as the Kingdom of God on Earth: From Joachim to Müntzer
So far we have
dealt with reabsorption theology as a crucial forerunner of Marx’s
religious, eschatological communism. But there is another important
strand sometimes woven in with the first, fused into his eschatological
vision: messianic millennialism, or chiliasm, the establishing of
a communist Kingdom of God on Earth.
its history, Christianity has had to confront the question of the
millennium: the thousand-year reign of God on earth. Particularly
in such murky parts of the Bible as the book of Daniel
and the book of Revelation, there are suggestions of such
a millennial Kingdom of God on Earth before the final Day of Judgment
and the end of human history.
Christian line was set by the great Saint Augustine in the early
5th century, and has been accepted ever since by the mainstream
Christian churches: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and arguably by Calvin
and at least by the Dutch wing of the Calvinist church. That orthodox
line holds that the millennial Kingdom of God on Earth [KGE] is
strictly a metaphor for the Christian Church, which reigns on earth
only in the spiritual sense. The material realization of the Kingdom
of God will only arrive upon the Day of Judgment and is therefore
to be confined to heaven alone.
have always warned that taking the KGE literally, what the late
orthodox-Christian theorist Eric Voegelin called “immanentizing
the eschaton” — bringing the eschaton down to earth — is bound to
create grave social problems.
For one thing,
most versions of how the KGE will come into being are apocalyptic.
The KGE is to be preceded by a mighty Armageddon, a titanic war
of good against evil, in which the good will finally, though inevitably,
for the apocalypse is a fundamental problem faced by all KGE theorists.
The KGE, by definition, will consist of a society of saints, of
perfect people. But if this is true, what has become of the host
of human sinners, of whom alas there are legion? In order to establish
the KGE there must first be some sort of mighty apocalyptic purge
of the sinners to clear the ground for the society of saints.
and “postmillennial” variants of apocalyptics accomplish this task
in different ways. The pre-mils, who believe that Jesus’s Second
Advent will precede the KGE, and that Jesus will run the Kingdom
with the cadre of saints at his right hand, achieve the purge by
a divinely determined Armageddon between God’s forces and the forces
of the Beast and the Antichrist. The post-mils, who believe that
man must establish the KGE as a precondition of Jesus’s Second Coming,
have to take matters more directly in their own hands and accomplish
the great purge on their own.
Thus, one disturbing
aspect of the KGE is the preparatory purgation of the host of human
sinners. A second problem is what the KGE is going to look like.
As we might imagine, KGE theorists have been extremely cloudy about
the nature of their perfect society, but one troublesome feature
is that, to the extent that we know its operations at all, the KGE
is almost always depicted as a communist society, lacking work,
private property, or the division of labor. In short, something
like the Marxian communist utopia, except run by a cadre, not of
the vanguard of the proletariat, but of theocratic saints.
system faces the problem of production: who would have the incentive
to produce for the communal storehouse, and how would this work
and its products be allocated? The first, and most highly influential,
communist Christian heretic was the late 12th-century Calabrian
abbot and hermit, Joachim of Fiore.
almost managed to convert three popes to his heresy, adopted the
thesis that there are destined to be in history, not just two Ages
(pre- and post-Christian) as orthodox Christians believe, but a
Third Age aborning, of which he was the prophet. The pre-Christian
era was the age of the Father, of the Old Testament; the Christian
era the age of the Son, the New Testament. And now arrives the third
apocalyptic age of the Holy Spirit, to be ushered in during the
next half-century, an age of pure love and freedom, in which history
was to come to an end. The Church, the Bible, and the State would
be swept away, and man would live in a free, communist community
without work or property.
with the problem of production and allocation under communism very
neatly and effectively, more so than any communist successor. In
the Third Age, he declared, man’s material body will disappear,
and man will be pure spirit, free to spend all of his days in mystical
ecstasy chanting praises to God for a thousand years until the Day
of Judgment. Without physical bodies, there is of course precious
little need for production.
the path to this kingdom of pure spirit would be blazed by a new
order of highly spiritual monks, from whom would come 12 patriarchs
headed by a supreme teacher, who would convert the Jews to Christianity
as foretold in the book of Revelation. For a blazing three
and a half years a secular king, the Antichrist, would crush and
destroy the corrupt Christian Church, after which the Antichrist
would be overthrown by the new monastic order, who would promptly
establish the millennial age of the Spirit. It is no wonder that
a rigorist wing of the Franciscan order, which was to emerge during
the first half of the 13th century, and be dedicated to material
poverty, should see themselves as the coming Joachimite cadre.
At the same
period, the Amaurians, led by a group of theology students of Amalric
at the University of Paris, carried on the Joachimite doctrine of
the three Ages, and added an interesting twist: each age, they declared,
has enjoyed its own Incarnation. In the age of the Old Testament,
the divine Incarnation settled in Abraham and perhaps some other
patriarchs; for the New Testament age, the Incarnation was of course
Jesus; and now, for the dawning Age of the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation
would emerge among the various human beings themselves.
As might be
expected, the Amaurian cadre proclaimed themselves to be living
gods, the Incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Not that they would always
remain a divine elite, among men; on the contrary, they were destined
to be the vanguard, leading mankind to its universal Incarnation.
following century, a congeries of groups throughout northern Europe
known as the Brethren of the Free Spirit added another important
ingredient to this brew: the mystical dialectic of the “reabsorption
into God.” But the brethren added their own elitist twist: while
the reabsorption of all men must await the end of history, and the
mass of the “crude in spirit” must meanwhile meet their individual
deaths, there was a glorious minority, the “subtle in spirit,” who
could and did become reabsorbed and therefore living gods during
of course, was the cadre of the Brethren themselves, who, by virtue
of years of training, self-torture, and visions had become perfect
gods, more perfect and more godlike than even Christ himself. Furthermore,
once this stage of mystical union was reached, it was to be permanent
and eternal. These new gods, in fact, often proclaimed themselves
greater than God himself.
gods on earth brought a lot of good things in its wake. In the first
place, it led directly to an extreme form of the antinomian heresy;
that is, if people are gods, then it is impossible for them to sin.
Whatever they did is necessarily moral and perfect. This means that
any act ordinarily considered to be sin, from adultery to murder,
became perfectly legitimate when performed by the living gods. Indeed,
the Free Spirits, like other antinomians, were tempted to demonstrate
and flaunt their freedom from sin by performing all manner of sins
But there was
also a catch. Among the Free Spirit cultists, only a minority of
leading adepts were “living gods.” For the rank-and-file cultists,
striving to become gods, there was one sin and one alone which they
must not commit: disobedience to their master.
was bound by an oath of absolute obedience to a particular living
god. Take, for example, Nicholas of Basle, a leading Free Spirit,
whose cult stretched most of the length of the Rhine. Claiming to
be the new Christ, Nicholas held that everyone’s sole path to salvation
consisted of making an act of absolute and total submission to Nicholas
himself. In return for this total fealty, Nicholas granted his followers
freedom from all sin.
As for the
rest of mankind outside the cults, they were simply unredeemed and
unregenerate beings who existed only to be used and exploited by
the Elect. This gospel of total rule went hand in hand with the
social doctrine of many of the 14th-century cults of the Free Spirit:
a communistic assault on the institution of private property. In
a sense, however, this philosophic communism was merely a thinly
camouflaged cover for the Free Spirits’ self-proclaimed right to
commit theft at will. The Free Spirit adept, in short, regarded
all property of the non-Elect as rightfully his own.
of Strasbourg summed up this creed in 1817: “They believe that all
things are common, whence they conclude that theft is lawful for
them.” Or as the Free Spirit adept from Erfurt, Johann Hartmann,
put it, “The truly free man is king and lord of all creatures. All
things belong to him, and he has the right to use whatever pleases
him. If anyone tries to prevent him, the free man may kill him and
take his goods.”
As one of the favorite sayings of the Brethren of the Free Spirit
phrased it, “Whatever the eye sees and covets, let the hand grasp
century, the 14th, brought the first attempt to initiate the KGE,
the first brief experiment in totalitarian theocratic communism.
This attempt originated in the left, or extreme, wing, of the Taborites,
which in turn constituted the radical wing of the revolutionary
Hussite movement in Czech Bohemia of the early 15th century.
movement, led by Jan Hus, was a pre-Protestant revolutionary formation
that blended struggles of religion (Hussite vs. Catholic), nationality
(popular Czech vs. upper-class and upper-clergy German), and class
(artisans cartelized in urban guilds trying to take political power
from patricians). Building on the previous communist KGE movements,
and especially on the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the ultra-Taborites
added, with considerable enthusiasm, one extra ingredient: the duty
to exterminate. For the Last Days are coming, and the Elect must
go forth and stamp out sin by exterminating all sinners, which means,
at the very least, all non-ultra-Taborites.
For all sinners
are enemies of Christ, and “accursed be the man who withholds his
sword from shedding the blood of the enemies of Christ. Every believer
must wash his hands in that blood.” This destruction was of course
not to stop short of intellectual eradication. When sacking churches
and monasteries, the Taborites took particular delight in destroying
libraries and burning books.
For “all belongings
must be taken away from God’s enemies and burned or otherwise destroyed.”
Besides, the Elect have no need of books. When the Kingdom of God
on Earth arrived, there would no longer be “need for anyone to teach
another. There would be no need for books or scriptures, and all
worldly wisdom will perish.” And all people too, one suspects.
also wove into the reabsorption theme a return to the alleged early
condition of Czech communism: a society lacking the sin of private
property. In order to return to this classless society, determined
the Taborites, the cities, those notorious centers of luxury and
avarice, must be exterminated. And once the communist KGE had been
established in Bohemia, the Elect must forge out from that base
and impose such communism on the rest of the world.
also added another ingredient to make their communist ideal consistent.
In addition to the communism of property, women would also be communized.
The Taborite preachers taught that “Everything will be common, including
wives; there will be free sons and daughters of God and there will
be no marriage as union of two — husband and wife.”
revolution broke out in 1419, and in that same year, the Taborites
gathered at the town of Usti, in northern Bohemia near the German
border. They renamed Usti “Tabor,” i.e., the Mount of Olives where
Jesus had foretold his Second Coming, was ascended to heaven, and
where he was expected to reappear. The radical Taborites engaged
in a communist experiment at Tabor, owning everything in common,
and being dedicated to the proposition that “whoever owns private
property commits a mortal sin.” True to their doctrines, all women
were owned in common, and if husband and wife were ever seen together,
they were beaten to death or otherwise executed.
the Taborites were so caught up in their unlimited right to consume
from the common store that they felt themselves exempt from the
need to work. The common store soon disappeared, and then what?
Then, of course, the radical Taborites claimed that their need entitled
them to claim the property of the non-Elect, and they proceeded
to rob others at will.
A synod of
the moderate Taborites complained: “many communities never think
of earning their own living by the work of their hands but are only
willing to live on other people’s property and to undertake unjust
campaigns for the sake of robbing.” Moreover, the Taborite peasantry
who had rejoiced in the abolition of feudal dues paid to the Catholic
patricians found the radical regime reimposing the same feudal dues
and bonds only six months later.
among their moderate allies and among their peasantry, the radical
communist regime at Usti/Tabor soon collapsed. But their torch was
quickly picked up by a sect known as the Bohemian Adamites. Like
the Free Spirits of the previous century, the Adamites held themselves
to be living gods, superior to Christ, since Christ had died while
they still lived (impeccable logic, if a bit shortsighted).
For the Adamites,
led by a peasant leader they dubbed “Adam-Moses,” all goods were
owned strictly in common, and marriage was considered a heinous
sin. In short, promiscuity was compulsory, since the chaste were
unworthy to enter the messianic Kingdom. Any man could choose any
woman at will, and that will would have to be obeyed. On the other
hand, promiscuity was at one and the same time compulsory and severely
restricted; since sex could only take place with the permission
of the leader, Adam-Moses. The Adamites added a special twist: they
went around naked most of the time, imitating the original state
of Adam and Eve.
Like the other
radical Taborites, the Adamites regarded it as their sacred mission
to exterminate all the unbelievers in the world, wielding the sword,
in one of their favorite images, until blood floods the world up
to the height of a horse’s bridle. The Adamites were God’s scythe,
sent to cut down and eradicate the unrighteous.
the Hussite military commander Jan Zizka, the Adamites took refuge
on an island in the river Nezarka, from which they went forth in
commando raids to try their best, despite their relatively small
number, to fulfill their twin pledge of compulsory communism and
extermination of the non-Elect. At night, they raided the mainland
— in forays they called a “Holy War” — to rob everything they could
lay their hands on and to exterminate their victims. True to their
creed, they murdered every man, woman, and child they could find.
October 1421, Zizka sent a force of 400 trained soldiers to besiege
the Adamite island, soon overwhelming the commune and massacring
every last Adamite. One more hellish Kingdom of God on Earth had
been put to the sword.
Taborite army was, in turn, crushed by the Hussites at the Battle
of Lipan in 1434, and from then on, Taborism declined and went underground.
But Taborite and millennialist ideas continued to pop up, not only
among the Czechs, but also in Bavaria and in other German lands
Luther must have felt that he had loosed the whirlwind, even opened
the Gates of Hell. Shortly after Luther launched the Reformation,
Anabaptist sects appeared and spread throughout Germany. Anabaptists
believed that they were the Elect, and that the sign of that election
was an emotional, mystical conversion experience, the process of
being “born again,” or baptized in the Holy Spirit.
of the Anabaptist Elect finding themselves within a corrupt and
sinful society, there were two routes to take. One, the voluntary
Anabaptists, such as the Amish or Mennonites, became virtual anarchists,
striving to separate themselves as much as possible from a sinful
State and society. The other wing, the theocratic Anabaptists, sought
to seize power in the State and to shape up society by extreme coercion.
Knox has pointed out, this ultratheocratic approach must be distinguished
from the sort of theocracy (what has recently been called theonomy
— the rule of God’s Law) imposed by Calvin in Geneva or by
the Calvinistic Puritans in 17th-century North America. Luther and
Calvin, in Knox’s terminology, did not pretend to be “prophets”
enjoying continuing personal divine revelation; they were only “pundits,”
scholarly experts in interpreting the Bible, and in applying Biblical
law to man.
But the coercive Anabaptists were led by men claiming mystical illumination
and revelation and deserving therefore of absolute power.
The wave of
theocratic Anabaptism that swept over Germany and Holland with hurricane
force may be called the “Müntzer-Münster era,” since it
was launched by Thomas Müntzer in 1520, and ended in a holocaust
at the city of Münster 15 years later. A learned young theologian
and graduate of the Universities of Leipzig and Frankfurt, Müntzer
was selected by Luther to become a Lutheran pastor in the city of
was near the Bohemian border, and there Müntzer was converted
by the weaver and adept Niklas Storch, who had lived in Bohemia,
to the old Taborite creed: in particular, continuing personal divine
revelation to the prophet of the cult, and the necessity for the
Elect to seize power and impose a society of theocratic communism
by brutal force of arms. In addition, there was to be communism
of women: marriage was to be prohibited, and each man was to be
able to have any woman at will.
now claimed to be the divinely chosen prophet, destined to wage
a war of blood and extermination by the Elect against the sinners.
Müntzer claimed that the “living Christ” had permanently entered
his own soul. Endowed thereby with perfect insight into the divine
will, he asserted himself to be uniquely qualified to fulfill the
divine mission. He even spoke of himself as “becoming God.” Having
graduated from the world of learning, Müntzer was now ready
for the world of action.
wandered around central Germany for several years, gaining adepts
and inspiring uprisings that were quickly suppressed. Gaining a
ministerial post in the small Thuringian town of Allstedt, Müntzer
gained a wide popular following by preaching in the vernacular,
attracting a large number of uneducated miners, whom he formed into
a revolutionary organization called “The League of the Elect.”
A turning point
in Müntzer’s career came in 1524, when Duke John, brother of
the Elector of Saxony and a Lutheran, came to town and asked Müntzer
to preach him a sermon. Seizing his opportunity, Müntzer laid
it on the line: the Saxon princes must take their stand as either
servants of God or of the Devil. If they would do the former, they
must “lay on with the sword” to “exterminate” all the “godless”
and “evil-doers,” especially including priests, monks, and godless
rulers. If the Saxon princes failed in this task, Müntzer warned,
“the sword shall be taken from them. If they [the princes] resist,
let them be slaughtered without mercy. Such extermination, performed
by the princes and guided by Müntzer, would usher in a thousand-year
rule by the Elect.
reaction to this fiery ultimatum was surprisingly blasé. But,
warned repeatedly by Luther that Müntzer was becoming dangerous,
the Duke finally ordered Müntzer to refrain from any provocative
preaching until his case was decided by the Elector.
by the Saxon princes, however mild, was enough to set Thomas Müntzer
onto his final revolutionary road. The princes had proved themselves
untrustworthy: it was now up to the mass of the poor to make the
revolution. The poor, the Elect, would establish a rule of compulsory
egalitarian communism, where all things would be owned in common
by all, where everyone would be equal in all things, and each person
would receive according to his need.
But not yet.
For even the poor must first be broken of worldly desires and frivolous
enjoyments, and they must recognize the leadership of a new “servant
of God” who “must stand forth in the spirit of Elijah … and set
things in motion.” It was not difficult to guess who that Leader
was supposed to be.
as inhospitable, Müntzer moved to the Thuringian city of Muhlhausen,
where he found a friendly home in a land in political turmoil. Under
Müntzer’s inspiration, a revolutionary group took over Muhlhausen
in February 1525, and Müntzer and his allies proceeded to impose
a communist regime upon that city.
of Muhlhausen were seized, and all property was declared to be in
common; as a consequence, a contemporary observer noted, the regime
“so affected the folk that no one wanted to work.” As under the
Taborites, the regime of communism and love soon became, in practice,
a systemic excuse for theft:
needed food or clothing he went to a rich man and demanded it
of him in Christ’s name, for Christ had commanded that all should
share with the needy. And what was not given freely was taken
by force. Many acted thus…. Thomas [Müntzer] instituted
this brigandage and multiplied it every day.
At that point,
the great Peasants’ War erupted throughout Germany, a rebellion
by the peasantry in favor of their local autonomy, and opposing
the new, centralizing, high-tax rule of the German princes. In the
process of crushing the feebly armed peasantry, the princes came
to Muhlhausen on May 15, and offered amnesty to the peasants if
they would hand over Müntzer and his immediate followers. The
peasants were tempted, but Müntzer, holding aloft his naked
sword, gave his last flaming speech, declaring that God had personally
promised him victory, that he would catch all the enemy cannonballs
in the sleeves of his cloak, and that God would protect them all.
At a climactic
moment in Müntzer’s speech, a rainbow appeared in the heavens.
Since Müntzer had adopted the rainbow as the symbol of his
movement, the credulous peasantry naturally interpreted this event
as a veritable Sign from heaven. Unfortunately, the Sign failed
to work, and the princes’ army crushed the peasantry, killing 5,000
while losing only half a dozen men. Müntzer himself fled and
hid, but was captured soon after, tortured into confession, and
as the Kingdom of God on Earth: The Takeover of Münster
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
sent by the Matthys regime to other Anabaptist communities hailed
their new order of Christian love through terror:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 tienne 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.”
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
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
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 navely innocent faith does not exist in the world we know,
nor is it likely to exist in any earthly paradise that many
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.”
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
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.
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?)
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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
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”
consisted of deportation to prison islands.
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.”
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
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.”
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].
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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 tienne Cabet’s utopian novel, Voyage
in Icaria (1839),
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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:
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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
Marx: Apocalyptic Reabsorptionist Communist
Karl Marx was
born in Trier, a venerable city in Rhineland Prussia, in 1818, son
of a distinguished jurist, and grandson of a rabbi. Indeed, both
of Marx’s parents were descended from rabbis. Marx’s father Heinrich
was a liberal rationalist who felt no great qualms about his forced
conversion to official Lutheranism in 1816. What is little known
is that, in his early years, the baptized Karl was a dedicated Christian.
In his graduation
essays from Trier gymnasium in 1835, the very young Marx
prefigured his later development. His essay on an assigned topic,
“On the Union of the Faithful with Christ” was orthodox evangelical
Christian, but it also contained hints of the fundamental “alienation”
theme that he would later find in Hegel. Marx’s discussion of the
“necessity for union” with Christ stressed that this union would
put an end to the tragedy of God’s alleged rejection of man. In
a companion essay on “Reflections of A Young Man on the Choice of
a Profession,” Marx expressed a worry about his own “demon of ambition,”
of the great temptation he felt to “inveigh against the Deity and
to the University of Bonn and then off to the prestigious new University
of Berlin to study law, Marx soon converted to militant atheism,
shifted his major to philosophy, and joined a Doktorklub
of Young (or Left) Hegelianism, of which he soon became a leader
and general secretary.
The shift to
atheism quickly gave Marx’s demon of ambition full rein. Particularly
revelatory of Marx’s adult as well as youthful character are volumes
of poems, most of them lost until a few were recovered in recent
when they discuss these poems, tend to dismiss them as inchoate
Romantic yearnings, but they are too congruent with the adult Marx’s
social and revolutionary doctrines to be casually dismissed.
seems to be a case where a unified (early-plus-late) Marx is vividly
revealed. Thus, in his poem “Feelings,” dedicated to his childhood
sweetheart and later wife, Jenny von Westphalen, Marx expressed
both his megalomania and his enormous thirst for destruction:
I would comprehend
would draw the world to me;
hating, I intend
my star shine brilliantly
I would destroy forever,
I can create no world;
my call they notice never
Here, of course,
is a classic expression of Satan’s supposed reason for hating, and
rebelling against, God.
poem Marx writes of his triumph after he shall have destroyed God’s
will be able to walk triumphantly,
a god, through the ruins of their kingdom.
word of mine is fire and action.
breast is equal to that of the Creator.
And in his
poem “Invocation of One in Despair,” Marx writes,
build my throne high overhead,
tremendous shall its summit be.
its bulwark — superstitious dread.
its marshal — blackest agony.
The Satan theme
is most explicitly set forth in Marx’s “The Fiddler,” dedicated
to his father.
prince of darkness
it to me.
I have struck my deal,
chalks the signs, beats time for me
play the death march fast and free.
instructive is Marx’s lengthy unfinished poetic drama of this youthful
period, Oulanem, A Tragedy. In the course of this drama
his hero, Oulanem, delivers a remarkable soliloquy, pouring out
sustained invective, a deep hatred of the world and of mankind,
a hatred of creation, and a threat and a vision of total world destruction.
pours out his vials of wrath:
howl gigantic curses on mankind.
Eternity! She is an eternal grief.
being clockwork, blindly mechanical,
to be foul-calendars of Time and Space,
no purpose save to happen, to be ruined,
that there shall be something to ruin
there is a Something which devours,
leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins —
world which bulks between me and the Abyss
will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.
throw my arms around its harsh reality:
me, the world will dumbly pass away,
then sink down to utter nothingness,
with no existence — that would be really living!
world holds us fast
we are chained, shattered, empty, frightened,
chained to this marble block of Being,
and we — We are the apes of a cold God.
All this reveals
a spirit that often seems to animate militant atheism. In contrast
to the nonmilitant variety, which expresses a simple disbelief in
God’s existence, militant atheism seems to believe implicitly in
God’s existence, but to hate Him and to wage war for His destruction.
Such a spirit
was all too clearly revealed in the retort of militant atheist and
anarchocommunist Bakunin to the famous protheist remark of Voltaire:
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” The
demented Bakunin retorted, “If God did exist, it would be necessary
to destroy Him.” It was this hatred of God as a creator greater
than himself that apparently animated Karl Marx.
When Marx came
to the University of Berlin, the heart of Hegelianism, he found
that doctrine regnant but in a certain amount of disarray. Hegel
had died in 1831; the Great Philosopher was supposed to bring about
the end of history, but now Hegel was dead, and history continued
to march on. So if Hegel himself was not the final culmination of
history, then perhaps the Prussian State of Friedrich Wilhelm III
was not the final stage of history either. But if he was not, then
mightn’t the dialectic of history be getting ready for yet another
twist, another aufhebung?
groups of radical youth who, during the late 1830s and 1840s in
Germany and elsewhere, formed the movement of the Young, or Left,
Hegelians Disillusioned in the Prussian State. The Young Hegelians
proclaimed the inevitable coming apocalyptic revolution that would
destroy and transcend that State, a revolution that would really
bring about the end of history in the form of national, or world,
communism. After Hegel, there was one more twist of the dialectic
One of the
first and most influential of the Left Hegelians was a Polish aristocrat,
Count August Cieszkowski, who wrote in German and published in 1838
his Prolegomena to a Historiosophy. Cieszkowski brought
to Hegelianism a new dialectic of history, a new variant of the
three ages of man.
The first age,
the age of antiquity, was, for some reason, the Age of Emotion,
the epoch of pure feeling, of no reflective thought, of elemental
immediacy and hence unity with nature. The “spirit” was “in itself”
(an sich). The second age, the Christian Era, stretching
from the birth of Jesus to the death of the great Hegel, was the
Age of Thought, of reflection, in which the “spirit” moved “toward
itself,” in the direction of abstraction and universality. But Christianity,
the Age of Thought, was also an era of intolerable duality, of alienation,
of man separated from God, of spirit separated from matter, and
thought from action.
third and culminating age, the Age aborning, heralded (of course?)
by Count Cieszkowski, was to be the Age of Action. The third post-Hegelian
age would be an age of practical action, in which the thought of
both Christianity and of Hegel would be transcended and embodied
into an act of will, a final revolution to overthrow and transcend
For the term
“practical action,” Cieszkowski borrowed the Greek word praxis
to summarize the new age, a term that would soon acquire virtually
talismanic influence in Marxism. This final age of action would
bring about, at last, a blessed unity of thought and action, spirit
and matter, God and earth, and total “freedom.” With Hegel and the
mystics, Cieszkowski stressed that all past events, even
those seemingly evil, were necessary to the ultimate and culminating
In a work published
in French in Paris in 1844, Cieszkowski also heralded the new class
destined to become the leaders of the revolutionary society: the
intelligentsia, a word that had recently been coined by
a German-educated Pole, B. F. Trentowski.
Cieszkowski thus proclaimed and glorified a development that would
at least be implicit in the Marxist movement (after all, the great
Marxists, from Marx and Engels on down, were all bourgeois intellectuals
rather than children of the proletariat). Generally, however, Marxists
have been shamefaced about this reality that belies Marxian proletarianism
and equality, and the “new class” theorists have all been critics
of Marxian socialism, (e.g. Bakunin, Machajski, Michels, Djilas).
however, was not destined to ride the wave of the future of revolutionary
socialism. For he took the Christian messianic, rather than the
atheistic, path to the new society. In his massive, unfinished work
of 1848, Our Father (Ojcze nasz), Cieszkowski maintained
that the new age of revolutionary communism would be a Third Age,
an Age of the Holy Spirit (shades of Joachimism!), an era that would
be the Kingdom of God on earth “as it is in heaven.” This final
Kingdom of God on earth would reintegrate all of “organic humanity,”
and would be governed by a Central Government of All Mankind, headed
by a Universal Council of the People.
At that time,
it was by no means clear which strand of revolutionary communism,
the religious or the atheist, would ultimately win out. Thus, Alexander
Ivanovich Herzen, a founder of the Russian revolutionary tradition,
was entranced by Cieszkowski’s brand of Left Hegelianism, writing
that “the future society is to be the work not of the heart, but
of the concrete. Hegel is the new Christ bringing the word of truth
And soon, Bruno Bauer, friend and mentor of Karl Marx and leader
of the Doktorklub of Young Hegelians at the University
of Berlin, hailed Cieszkowski’s new philosophy of action in late
1841 as “The Trumpet Call of the Last Judgment.”
But the winning
strand in the European socialist movement, as we have indicated,
was eventually to be Karl Marx’s atheism. If Hegel pantheized and
elaborated the dialectic of the Christian messianics, Marx now “stood
Hegel on his head” by atheizing the dialectic, and resting it not
on mysticism or religion or “spirit” or the Absolute Idea or the
World-Mind, but on the supposedly solid and “scientific” foundation
of philosophical materialism.
his materialism from the Left Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach, particularly
from his work The Essence of Christianity (1843). In contrast
to the Hegelian emphasis on “spirit,” Marx would study the allegedly
scientific laws of matter in some way operating through history.
Marx, in short, took the dialectic and made it into a “materialist
dialectic of history.”
the dialectic into materialist and atheist terms, however, Marx
gave up the powerful motor of the dialectic as it supposedly operated
through history: either Christian messianism or Providence or the
growing self-consciousness of the world-spirit. How could Marx find
a “scientific,” materialist replacement, newly grounded in the ineluctable
“laws of history,” that would explain the historical process thus
far, and also — and most importantly — explain the inevitability
of the imminent apocalyptic transformation of the world into communism?
It is one thing
to base the prediction of a forthcoming Armageddon on the Bible;
it is quite another to deduce this event from allegedly scientific
law. Setting forth the specifics of this engine of history was to
occupy Karl Marx for the rest of his life.
found Feuerbach indispensable for adopting a thoroughgoing atheist
and materialist position, Marx soon found that Feuerbach had not
gone nearly far enough. Even though Feuerbach was a philosophical
communist, he basically believed that if man foreswore religion,
then man’s alienation from his self would be over.
To Marx, religion
was only one of the problems. The entire world of man (the Menschenwelt)
was alienating, and had to be radically overthrown, root and branch.
Only apocalyptic destruction of this world of man would permit true
human nature to be realized. Only then would the existing un-man
(Unmensch) truly become man (Mensch). As Marx
thundered in the fourth of his “theses on Feuerbach,” “One must
proceed to destroy the ‘earthly family’ as it is both ‘in theory
and in practice.’”
declared Marx, true man, as Feuerbach had argued, is a “communal
being” (Gemeinwesen) or “species being” (Gattungswesen).
Although the State as it exists must be negated or transcended,
man’s participation in the State comes as such a communal being.
The major problem
comes in the private sphere, the market, or “civil society,” in
which un-man acts as an egoist, as a private person, treating others
as means, and not collectively as masters of their fate. And in
existing society, unfortunately, civil society is primary, while
the State, or “political community,” is secondary. What must be
done to realize the full nature of mankind is to transcend the State
and civil society by politicizing all of life, by making all of
man’s actions “collective.” Then real individual man will become
a true and full species being.
But only a
revolution, an orgy of destruction, can accomplish such a task.
And here, Marx harkened back to the call for total destruction that
had animated his vision of the world in the poems of his youth.
Indeed, in a speech in London in 1856, Marx gave graphic and loving
expression to this goal of his “praxis.” He mentioned that in Germany
in the Middle Ages there existed a secret tribunal called the Vehmgericht.
He then explained:
If a red
cross was seen marked on a house, people knew that its owner
was doomed by the Vehm. All the houses of Europe are
now marked with the mysterious red cross. History is the judge
— its executioner the proletarian.
Marx, in fact,
was not satisfied with the philosophical communism to which he and
Engels had separately been converted by the slightly older Left
Hegelian Moses Hess in the early 1840s. To Hess’s communism, Marx,
by the end of 1843, added the crucial emphasis on the proletariat,
not simply as an economic class, but as destined to become the “universal
class” when communism was achieved.
Marx acquired his vision of the proletariat as the key to the communist
revolution from an influential book published in 1842 by a youthful
enemy of socialism, Lorenz von Stein. Stein interpreted the socialist
and communist movements of the day as rationalizations of the class
interests of the propertyless proletariat. Marx discovered in Stein’s
attack the “scientific” engine for the inevitable coming of the
The proletariat, the most “alienated” and allegedly “propertyless”
class, would be the key.
We have been
accustomed, ever since Stalin’s alterations of Marx, to regard “socialism”
as the “first stage” of a communist-run society, and “communism”
as the ultimate stage. This is not the way Marx saw the development
of his system. Marx, as well as all the other communists of his
day, used “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably to describe
their ideal society. Instead, Marx foresaw the dialectic operating
mysteriously to bring about the first stage, of “raw” or “crude”
communism, to be magically transformed by the workings of the dialectic
into the “higher” stage of communism.
It is remarkable
that Marx, especially in his “Private Property and Communism,” accepted
the horrendous picture that von Stein drew of the “raw” stage of
communism. Stein forecast that communism would attempt to enforce
egalitarianism by wildly and ferociously expropriating and destroying
property, confiscating it, and coercively communizing women as well
as material wealth. Indeed, Marx’s evaluation of raw communism,
the stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was even more
negative than Stein’s:
same way as woman is to abandon marriage for general [i.e.,
universal] prostitution, so the whole world of wealth, that
is, the objective being of man, is to abandon the relation of
exclusive marriage with the private property owner for the relation
of general prostitution with the community.
Not only that,
but, as Professor Tucker puts it, Marx concedes that “raw communism
is not the real transcendence of private property but only the universalizing
of it, and not the abolition of labour but only its extension to
all men. It is merely a new form in which the vileness of private
property comes to the surface.”
In short, in
the stage of communalization of private property, what Marx himself
considers the worst features of private property will be maximized.
Not only that, but Marx concedes the truth of the charge of anticommunists
then and now that communism and communization is but the expression,
in Marx’s words, of “envy and a desire to reduce all to a common
level.” Far from leading to a flowering of human personality, as
Marx is supposed to claim, he admits that communism will negate
that personality totally. Thus Marx wrote,
negating the personality of man, this type of communism
is really nothing but the logical expression of private property.
General envy, constituting itself as a power, is the
disguise in which greed reestablishes itself and satisfies
itself, only in another way…. In the approach to woman
as the spoil and handmaid of communal lust is expressed the
infinite degradation in which man exists for himself.
did not stress this dark side of communist revolution in his later
writings. Professor Tucker explains that “these vivid indications
from the Paris manuscripts of the way in which Marx envisaged and
evaluated the immediate postrevolutionary period very probably explain
the extreme reticence that he always later showed on this topic
in his published writings.”
But if this
communism is admittedly so monstrous, a regime of “infinite degradation,”
why should anyone favor it, much less dedicate one’s life and fight
a bloody revolution to establish it? Here, as so often in Marx’s
thought and writings, he falls back on the mystique of the “dialectic”
— that wondrous magic wand by which one social system inevitably
gives rise to its victorious transcendence and negation; and, in
this case, by which total evil — which turns out, interestingly
enough, to be the postrevolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat
and not previous capitalism — becomes transformed into
total good, a never-never land absent the division of labor and
all other forms of alienation.
point is that while Marx attempts to explain the dialectic movement
from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to the first stage
of communism in terms of class struggle and the material productive
forces, both of these drop out once raw communism is achieved. The
allegedly inevitable transformation from the hell of raw communism
to the alleged heaven of higher communism is left totally unexplained;
to rely on that crucial transformation, we must fall back
on pure faith in the mystique of the dialectic.
claim to be a “scientific socialist,” scorning all other Socialists
whom he dismissed as moralistic and “utopian,” it should be clear
that Marx himself was even more in the messianic utopian tradition
than were the competing “utopians.” For Marx not only sought a desired
future society that would put an end to history, he claimed to have
found the path toward that utopia inevitably determined by the “laws
But a utopian,
and a fierce one, Marx certainly was. A hallmark of every utopia
is a militant desire to put an end to history, to freeze mankind
in a static state, to put an end to diversity and man’s free will,
and to order everyone’s life in accordance with the utopian’s totalitarian
plan. Many early communists and socialists set forth their fixed
utopias in great and absurd detail, determining the size of everyone’s
living quarters, the food they would eat, etc. Marx was not silly
enough to do that, but his entire system, as Professor Thomas Molnar
points out, is “the search of the utopian mind for the definitive
stabilization of mankind or, in gnostic terms, its reabsorption
into the timeless.”
For Marx, his
quest for utopia was, as we have seen, an explicit attack on God’s
creation, and a ferocious desire to destroy it. The idea of crushing
the many, the diverse facets of creation, and of returning to an
allegedly lost unity with God began, as we have seen, with Plotinus.
As Molnar summed up,
view, existence itself is [a] wound on nonbeing. Philosophers
from Plotinus to Fichte and beyond have held that the reabsorption
of the polichrome universe in the eternal One would be preferable
to creation. Short of this solution, they propose to arrange
a world in which change is brought under control so as to put
an end to a disturbingly free will and to society’s uncharted
moves. They aspire to return from the linear Hebrew-Christian
concept to the Greco-Hindu cycle — that is, to a changeless,
of unity over diversity means that, for the utopians, including
Marx, “civil society, with its disturbing diversity, can be abolished.”
in Marx for God’s will or the Hegelian dialectic of the world-spirit
or the Absolute Idea, is monist materialism; its central assumption,
as Molnar puts it, being “that the universe consists of matter plus
some sort of one-dimensional law immanent in matter.” In that case,
“man himself is reduced to a complex but manipulable material aggregate,
living in the company of other aggregates, and forming increasingly
complex super aggregates called societies, political bodies, churches.”
The alleged laws of history, then, are derived by scientific Marxists
as supposedly evident and immanent within this matter itself.
process toward utopia, then, is man acquiring insights into his
own true nature, and then rearranging the world to accord with that
nature. Engels, in fact, explicitly proclaimed the Hegelian concepts
of the Man-God:
the question has always stood: What is God? — and German Hegelian
philosophy has resolved it as follows: God is man…. Man must
now arrange the world in a truly human way, according
to the demands of his nature.
But this process
is rife with self-contradictions; for example, and centrally, how
can mere matter gain insights into his [its?] nature? As Molnar
puts it, “for how can matter gather insights? And if it has insights,
it is not entirely matter, but matter plus.”
In this allegedly
inevitable process of arriving at the proletarian communist utopia
after the proletarian class becomes conscious of its true nature,
what is supposed to be Karl Marx’s own role? In Hegelian theory,
Hegel himself is the final and greatest world-historical figure,
the Man-God of man-gods. Similarly, Marx in his own view stands
at a focal point of history as the man who brought to the world
the crucial knowledge of man’s true nature and of the laws of history,
thereby serving as the “midwife” of the process that would put an
end to history. Thus Molnar wrote,
utopian and gnostic writers, Marx is much less interested in
the stages of history up to the present (the egotistic now
of all utopian writers) than the final stages when the stuff
of time becomes more concentrated, when the drama approaches
its denouement. In fact, the utopian writer conceives of history
as a process leading to himself since he, the ultimate comprehensor,
stands in the center of history. It is natural that things accelerate
during his own lifetime and come to a watershed: he
looms large between the Before and the After.
Thus, in common
with other utopian socialists and communists, Marx sought in communism
the apotheosis of the collective species — mankind as one new superbeing,
in which the only meaning possessed by the individual is as a negligible
particle of that collective organism. Many of Marx’s numerous epigones
carried out his quest.
portrayal of Marxian collective organicism — what amounts to a celebration
of the New Socialist Man to be created during the communizing process
— was that of a top Bolshevik theoretician of the early 20th century,
Alexander Alexandrovich Bogdanov. Bogdanov, too, spoke of “three
ages” of human history. First was a religious, authoritarian society
and a self-sufficient economy.
Next came the
“second age,” an exchange economy, marked by diversity and the emergence
of the “autonomy” of the “individual human personality.” But this
individualism, at first progressive, later becomes an obstacle to
progress as it hampers and “contradicts the unifying tendencies
of the machine age.” But then there will arise the Third Age, the
final stage of history: communism. This last stage will be marked
by a collective, self-sufficient economy, and by
of personal lives into one colossal whole, harmonious in the
relations of its parts, systematically grouping all elements
for one common struggle — struggle against the endless spontaneity
of nature…. An enormous mass of creative activity … is necessary
in order to solve this task. It demands the forces not of man
but of mankind — and only in working at this task does mankind
as such emerge.
the apex of Marxian messianic communism is a man who fuses all the
tendencies and strands analyzed thus far. A blend of Christian messianist
and devoted Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist, the 20th-century
German Marxist Ernst Bloch set forth his vision in his recently
translated three-volume phantasmagoria The Principle of Hope
(Daz Prinzip Hoffung).
Early in his
career, Bloch wrote a laudatory study of the views and life of the
coercive, Anabaptist communist, Thomas Müntzer, whom he hailed
as magical, or “theurgic.” The inner “truth” of things, wrote Bloch,
will only be discovered after “a complete transformation of the
universe, a grand apocalypse, the descent of the Messiah, a new
heaven and a new earth.”
There is more
than a hint in Bloch that disease, nay death itself, will be abolished
upon the advent of communism.
God is developing; “God himself is part of the Utopia, a finality
that is still unrealized.” For Bloch, mystical ecstasies and the
worship of Lenin and Stalin went hand in hand. As J. P. Stern writes,
Bloch’s Principle of Hope contains such remarkable declarations
as “Ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem” [Where Lenin is, there is
Jerusalem], and that “the Bolshevist fulfillment of Communism” is
part of “the age-old fight for God.”
In the person
of Ernst Bloch, the old grievous split within the European communist
movement of the 1830s and 1840s between its Christian and atheist
wings was at last reconciled. Or, to put it another way, in a final
bizarre twist of the dialectic of history, the total conquest of
the Christian variants of communism, at the hands of the superior
revolutionary will and organizing of Karl Marx, was now transcended
eschatological vision of heretical religious and Christian communism
was now back in full force, within the supposed stronghold of atheistic
communism, Marxism itself. From Ernst Bloch to the fanatical cults
of personality of Stalin and Mao to the genocidal vision and ruthlessness
of Pol Pot in Cambodia and the Shining Path guerrilla movement in
Peru, it seems that, within the body and soul of Marxism, Thomas
Müntzer had at last triumphed conclusively over Feuerbach.
Ernest L. Tuveson, “The Millenarian Structure of The Communist
Manifesto,” in C. Patrides and J. Wittreich, eds., The
Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984), pp. 326–27. Tuveson
speculates that Marx and Engels may have been influenced by the
outburst of millenarianism in England during the 1840s. On this
phenomenon, particularly the flare-up in England and the United
States of the Millerites, who predicted the end of the world on
October 22, 1844, see the classic work on modern millenarianism,
Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and
American Millenarianism, 1880–1930 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1970). See Tuveson, “Millenarian Structure,” p.
340, n. 5.
Thus, in the highly touted work of Thomas Sowell, Marxism:
The Philosophy and Economics (London: Unwin Paperbacks. 1986),
there is scarcely any consideration whatsoever paid to communism.
The official Soviet textbook on Marxism treated its own proclaimed
goal with brusque dismissal, insisting that all Soviets must work
hard and not skip any “stages” on the long road to communism.
“The CPSU [the Communist Party of the Soviet Union], being a party
of scientific communism, advances and solves the problem of communist
construction as the material and spiritual prerequisites for them
to become ready and mature, being guided by the fact that necessary
stages of development must not be skipped over.” Fundamentals
of Marxism-Leninism, 2nd rev. ed. (Moscow: Foreign Languages
Publishing House, 1963), p. 662. Also see ibid., pp. 645–46, 666–67,
See the illuminating work of Robert C. Tucker, Philosophy
and Myth in Karl Marx (1970, New York: Cambridge University
What Marx Really Meant was the title of a sympathetic
work on Marxism by G. D. H. Cole (London, 1934).
Alexander Gray, The Socialist Tradition (London: Lougmans
Green, 1946), pp. 321–22.
Another example of what may be termed “religious” behavior by
Marxists is the insistence of thinkers who have clearly abandoned
almost all the essential tenets of Marxism on calling themselves
by the magical name “Marxist.” A recent case in point is the British
“analytical Marxists,” such as John Roemer and Jon Elster. For
a critique of this school by an orthodox Marxist, see Michael
A. Lebowitz, “Is ‘Analytical Marxism’ Marxism?” Science
and Society, vol. 52 (Summer 1988): pp. 191–214.
Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: Its
Origins, Growth and Dissolution, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1981) pp. 9–39.
The great orthodox Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton brilliantly
illuminated the difference between Christian individualism and
pantheistic collectivism in the following critique of the Buddhist
Mrs. Annie Besant, one of the founders of the Fabian Society,
“According to Mrs. Besant the universal Church is simply the universal
Self. It is the doctrine that we are really all one person; that
there are no real walls of individuality between man and man….
She does not tell us to love our neighbor; she tells us to be
our neighbors…. The intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity
is that, for the Buddhist or the theosophist, personality is the
fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole
point of His cosmic idea.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
(New York, 1927), pp. 244–45. Quoted in Thomas Molnar, Utopia:
the Perennial Heresy (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967), p.
Alexander Gray has a lot of fun with the concept of “negation”
in the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic. He writes that the examples
of the “negation of the negation” in Engels’s Anti-Dhring
“may be sound Hegelianism, but otherwise they appear rather
silly. A seed of barley falls into the ground and germinates:
negation of the seed. In the autumn it produces more grains of
barley: negation of the negation. A butterfly comes from an egg:
negation of the egg. After many transformations, the butterfly
mates and dies: negation of the negation…. Hegel is surely something
more than this.” Gray adds a comment that Marx’s admiring summary
of Hegelianism in his Poverty and Philosophy is “not
without entertainment value”: “yes becomes no, no becomes yes,
yes becomes at the same time yes and no, no becomes at the same
time no and yes, the contraries balance, neutralize, and paralyze
each other.” (My own translation from Gray’s original French quote,
which he found “especially” entertaining.) Gray, Socialist
Tradition, p. 300, n. 1 and n. 2.
See M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution
in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 161.
Most of the Protestants held the very different, and far more
correct, view that the Norman Conquest had imposed a state-created
feudal-type landed estates on an England that had been much closer
to being an idyll of genuine private property.
other historians and anthropologists saw the original Early Communism,
or Golden Age, in primitive premarket tribal societies. Modern
anthropological research, however, has demonstrated that most
primitive and tribal societies were based on private property,
money, and market economies. Thus, see Bruce Benson, “Enforcement
of Private Property Rights in Primitive Societies: Law Without
Government,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 9 (Winter
In M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, p. 517n.
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas
During the English Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1975),
p. 136. Also see F. D. Dow, Radicalism in the English Revolution
1640–1660 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), pp. 74–80.
See the superb work by the leading literary critic of Romanticism,
Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism.
Hegel was nominally a Lutheran, but Lutheranism in Germany at
that time was evidently latitudinarian enough to encompass pantheism.
Robert C. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, pp. 53–54.
See Raymond Plant, Hegel (Bloomington Indiana University
Press, 1973), p. 120.
Ferguson furthermore, used his phrase in a fashion very similar
to that of Hegel, and was originally far from the Hayekian analysis
of the free market. Ferguson, as a young Calvinist minister, enlisted
in the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 in Scotland.
After the rebellion was at last put down, Ferguson preached a
sermon in which he tried to solve the great puzzle: why did God
permit the Catholics to pursue their evil goals and almost triumph?
His answer was that the Catholics, even though consciously pursuing
evil ends, served as the unconscious agents of God’s good purpose;
i.e., rousing the Presbyterian Church of Scotland out of its alleged
apathy. Hence, a prototype of the “cunning of Reason” in history,
except for theist rather than pantheist goals. See Richard B.
Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment
(Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 40–44.
As Paul Craig Roberts has rightly emphasized, “alienation” in
Man is not simply the capitalist wage-relation but, more deeply,
specialization, the division of labor, and the money economy itself.
But as we see, alienation is even more rootedly the cosmic condition
of man’s state until the reabsorption of collective man-and-nature
under communism. See Paul Craig Roberts, Alienation and the
Soviet Economy (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1971);
and Roberts and Matthew A. Stephenson, Marx’s Theory of Exchange,
Alienation and Crisis, 2nd ed. (New York: Praeger, 1983).
Plant, Hegel, p. 96.
See Plant, Hegel, pp. 122, 123, and 181. Also
see Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies,
vol. 2 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), p. 31.
Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, pp. 54–55. E. F.
Carritt points out that, for Hegel, “freedom” is “desiring above
all things to serve the success and glory of their State. In desiring
this they are desiring that the will of God should be done.” If
an individual thinks he should do something which is not for the
success and glory of the State, then, for Hegel, “he should be
‘forced to be free.’” How does a person know what action
will redound to the glory of the State? To Hegel, the answer was
easy. Whatever the State rulers demand, since “the very fact of
their being rulers is the surest sign of God’s will that they
should be.” Impeccable logic indeed! See E. F. Carritt, “Reply”
(1940), reprinted in W Kauffmann, ed., Hegel’s Political Philosophy
(New York: Atherton Press, 1970), pp. 38–39.
Tucker offers an amusing comment on the reaction of the eminent
Hegelian W. T. Stace, who had written that “we must not jump to
the preposterous conclusion that, according to Hegel’s philosophy,
I, this particular human spirit, am the Absolute, nor that the
Absolute is any particular spirit, nor that it is humanity in
general. Such conclusions would be little short of shocking.”
Tucker adds that this “argument from propriety” does not answer
the question “why we must assume that Hegel could not be ‘shocking.’”
Or, we might add, preposterous, or megalomaniacal. Tucker, Philosophy
and Myth, pp. 46n., 47n.
On the influence of Schiller’s views on organicism and alienation
upon Hegel, Marx and later sociology, see Leon Bramson, The
Political Context of Sociology (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1961), p. 30n.
See Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, p. 311.
As the historian Norman Cohn put it, the Joachimite new “world
would be one vast monastery in which all men would be contemplative
monks rapt in mystical ecstasy and united in singing the praises
of God.” Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium,
rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp.
Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, p. 182.
Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion
(1950; New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 132–34.
Quoted in Igor Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon
(New York: Harper and Row, 1980), p. 57.
Gray, Socialist Tradition, pp. 90–91.
Gray, Socialist Tradition, pp. 62–63.
See the revealing article by Paul Gottfried, “Utopianism of the
Right: Maistre and Schlegel,” Modern Age, vol. 24 (Spring
1980): pp. 150–60.
James H. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the
Revolutionary Faith (New York: Basic Books, 1980), p. 73.
For this phrase and other translated quotes from the Manifesto,
see Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon, pp. 121–24.
Also see Gray, Socialist Tradition, p. 107.
Billington, Fire in the Minds, p. 75. Also see Gray,
Socialist Tradition, p 105n. As Gray comments, “what
is desired is the annihilation of all things, trusting that out
of the dust of destruction a fair city may arise. And buoyed by
such a hope, how blithely would Babeuf bide the stour.” Ibid.,
Cabet had been a distinguished French lawyer and attorney-general
of Corsica, but he was ousted for radical attitudes toward the
French government. After founding a journal, Cabet fled into exile
in London during the 1830s and initially became an Owenite. Despite
Cabet’s nationality, the book was originally written and published
in English, and a French translation was published the following
year. A peaceful communist rather than a revolutionary, Cabet
tried to establish utopian communes in various failed projects
in the United States, from 1848 until his death 8 years later.
Billington, Fire in the Minds, p. 243.
Billington, Fire in the Minds, p. 257.
Billington, Fire in the Minds, p. 251.
See the standard biography of Marx by David McLellan, Karl
Marx: His Life and Thought (New York: Harper and Row, 1973),
See J. L. Talmon, Political Messianism: The Romantic Phase
(New York: Praeger, 1960), p. 157.
Friedrich Engels was the son of a leading industrialist and cotton
manufacturer, who was also a staunch Pietist from the Barmen area
of the Rhineland in Germany. Barmen was one of the major centers
of Pietism in Germany, and Engels received a strict Pietist upbringing.
An atheist and then a Hegelian by 1839, Engels wound up at the
University of Berlin and the Young Hegelians by 1841, and moved
in the same circles as Marx, becoming fast friends in 1844.
The poems were largely written in 1836 and 1837, in Marx’s first
months in Berlin. Two of the poems constituted Marx’s first published
writings, in the Berlin Atheneum in 1841. The others
have been mainly lost.
Richard Wurmbrand, Marx and Satan (Westchester, Ill.:
Crossway Books, 1986), pp. 12–13.
For the complete translated text of Oulanem, see Robert
Payne, The Unknown Karl Marx (New York: New York University
Press, 1971), pp. 81–83. Also excellent on the poems and on Marx
as a messianist is Bruce Mazlish, The Meaning of Karl Marx
(New York, Oxford University Press, 1984).
points out that Oulanem is an anagram of Emmanuel, the
Biblical name for Jesus, and that such inversions of holy names
are standard practice in Satanic cults. There is no real evidence,
however, that Marx was a member of such a cult. Wurmbrand, Marx
and Satan, pp. 13–14 and passim.
In B. F. Trentowski, The Relationship of Philosophy to Cybernetics
(Poznan, 1843), in which the author also coined the word “cybernetics”
for the new, emerging form of rational social technology which
would transform mankind. See Billington, Fire in the Minds,
Billington, Fire in the Minds, p. 225.
Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, p. 101.
Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, p. 105. It is both ironic
and fascinating that the dominant intellectuals in contemporary
Hungary who are leading the drive away from socialism and toward
freedom are honoring the Marxian concept of “civil society” as
what they are moving toward while going away from the collective
and the communal.
Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, p. 15.
Stein was a conservative Hegelian monarchist, who had been assigned
by the Prussian government to study the unsettling new doctrines
of socialism and communism becoming rampant in France. Marx displayed
a “minute textual familiarity” with Stein’s book, Lorenz von Stein,
Der Socialismus und Communismus des heutigen Frankreichs
(Liepzig, 1842), a book that remains untranslated. Stein spent
his mature years as professor of public finance and public administration
at the University of Vienna. See Tucker, Philosophy and Myth,
Quoted in Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, p. 155. Italics
Tucker, Philosophy and Myth, pp. 155–56.
Thomas Molnar, “Marxism and the Utopian Theme,” Marxist Perspectives
(Winter 1978): p. 153–54. The economist David McCord Wright, while
not delving into the religious roots of the problem, stressed
that one group in society, the statists, seeks “the achievement
of a fixed ideal static pattern of technical and social organization.
Once this ideal is reached, or closely approximated, it need only
be repeated endlessly thereafter.” David McCord Wright, Democracy
and Progress (New York: Macmillan, 1948), p. 21.
Molnar, “Marxism,” pp. 149, 150–51.
Molnar, “Marxism,” pp. 151–52.
Quoted in S. V. Utechin, “Philosophy and Society: Alexander Bogdanov,”
in Leopold Labedz, ed., Revisionism: Essays on the History
of Marxist Ideas (New York: Praeger, 1962), p. 122.
J.P. Stern, “Marxism on Stilts: Review of Ernst Bloch, The
Principle of Hope,” The New Republic, vol. 196 (March
9, 1987): pp. 40, 42. Also see Kolakowski, Main Currents,
vol. 3, pp. 423–24.
N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State, Conceived
in Liberty, What
Has Government Done to Our Money, For
a New Liberty, The
Case Against the Fed, and many
other books and articles.
He was also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.