Friday, March 14, 2008

The seed of Communism was a Christian seed


In the, admittedly, futile discussions on Atheism and Communism it seems a lot of people have problems seeing that Communism is an ideology where Atheism is only a detail. I have earlier written a post called Lenin warns against "bald Atheist propaganda" where I show that Lenin was much more concerned with economic issues, rather than "bourgeois materialism".
However, having just taken a look at Vox Day's flea called "The Irrational Atheist", I see he is propagating the communist strawman as usual. (I was going to go through his points here, but I'll leave that to some other time, because this is already too long and I want to hit the publish button.)

At this point I have to make it clear what is a valid argument against Atheism with respect to Communism. Communism shows that even without religion, shit can happen. So far, I have no problem with this argument.

What is an outright lie is that Communism could not have happened without Atheism, or that Atheism somehow resulted in communism since everything was allowed without Christians morals. And further: to imply that "New Atheism" leads directly back to Communism or something similar.

Vox Day spend some time trying to rebut Sam Harris' point that Communism was in many ways a religion. I think Harris is right, not because he slanders religion by doing so, but because the Communists had a fairly religious and outright puritanical zeal.
But that's besides the point.
We can turn it around and say that Christianity is a spiritual ideology. By this I mean that there's metaphysics (which Communism lacks) and there's explanations of how to live (which Communism has). The common trait between Communism and Christianity is first and foremost that they try to tell us how to do things and they have ideals.

So, how does Christianity fit in with Communism? Can you be a Christian Communist? Sure you can, although if you're a Christian Libertarian writing for a Dominionist paper like World Nut Daily, then this has probably never crossed your mind. In the Lenin post mentioned earlier, Lenin advocated that Atheists should not be a divisive force, by turning away Christians.
But perhaps more interesting is that the origin of Communism as an ideology can be traced right back to the reformation:
"Germany had her Social Reformers as early as the Reformation. Soon after Luther had begun to proclaim church reform and to agitate the people against spiritual authority, the peasantry of Southern and Middle Germany rose in a general insurrection against their temporal lords. Luther always stated his object to be, to return to original Christianity in doctrine and practice; the peasantry took exactly the same standing, and demanded, therefore, not only the ecclesiastical, but also the social practice of primitive Christianity. They conceived a state of villainy and servitude, such as they lived under, to be inconsistent with the doctrines of the Bible; they were oppressed by a set of haughty barons and earls, robbed and treated like their cattle every day, they had no law to protect them, and if they had, they found nobody to enforce it. Such a state contrasted very much with the communities of early Christians and the doctrines of Christ, as laid down in the Bible. Therefore they arose and began a war against their lords, which could only be a war of extermination. Thomas Münzer, a preacher, whom they placed at their head, issued a proclamation, [162] full, of course, of the religious and superstitious nonsense of the age, but containing also among others, principles like these: That according to the Bible, no Christian is entitled to hold any property whatever exclusively for himself; that community of property is the only proper state for a society of Christians; that it is not allowed to any good Christian to have any authority or command over other Christians, nor to hold any office of government or hereditary power, but on the contrary, that, as all men are equal before God, so they ought to be on earth also. These doctrines were nothing but conclusions drawn from the Bible and from Luther’s own writings; but the Reformer [Martin Luther] was not prepared to go as far as the people did; notwithstanding the courage he displayed against the spiritual authorities, he had not freed himself from the political and social prejudices of his age; he believed as firmly in the right divine of princes and landlords to trample upon the people, as he did in the Bible. [...]“Kill them like dogs!” he exclaimed. The whole tract is written with such an animosity, nay, fury and fanaticism against the people, that it will ever form a blot upon Luther’s character; it shows that, if he began his career as a man of the people, he was now entirely in the service of their oppressors. The insurrection, after a most bloody civil war, was suppressed, and the peasants reduced to their former servitude.
If we except some solitary instances, of which no notice was taken by the public, there has been no party of Social Reformers in Germany, since the peasants’ war, up to a very recent date."

Frederick Engels: Progress of Social Reform On the Continent
Martin Luther may not have been amused, but the seed of Communism was sown, and it was a Christian seed.
Engels also write about more recent times:
"It is, however, curious, that whilst the English Socialists are generally opposed to Christianity, and have to suffer all the religious prejudices of a really Christian people, the French Communists, being a part of a nation celebrated for its infidelity, are themselves Christians. One of their favourite axioms is, that Christianity is Communism, “le Christianisme c'est le Communisme”. This they try to prove by the bible, the state of community in which the first Christians are said to have lived, etc. But all this shows only, that these good people are not the best Christians, although they style themselves so; because if they were, they would know the bible better, and find that, if some few passages of the bible may be favourable to Communism, the general spirit of its doctrines is, nevertheless, totally opposed to it, as well as to every rational measure."
Engels, being an Atheist can hardly conceal his scorn for Christian Communists. One is tempted to agree, but in this day and age, where Christianity has become fairly adaptive, when you can be both gay and Christian it's not difficult to realize that Christian Communists were more than capable of using their religion as an argument for social change. What is important here is this: Their theological interpretations were different from those of Vox Day, but nevertheless rooted in religion. (Vox Day is probably no less on the fringes than the Christian Communists were.)

Now, let's introduce a man who was of importance to both Engels and Marx. Wilhelm Wetling:
"One of these men, William Weitling, a native of Magdeburg in Prussia, and a simple journeyman-tailor, resolved to establish communities in his own country. This man, who is to be considered as the founder of German Communism[...]"
The founder of German Communism, no less! Franz Mehring may continue:
[Weitling and Proudhon] were the first members of the modern proletariat to provide historical proof of the intellect and vigour of the proletariat, proof that it could free itself, and they were the first to break down the vicious circle in which the working-class movement and socialism revolved. To this extent therefore they opened up a new epoch, and their work and their activity were exemplary and exercised a fruitful influence on the development of scientific socialism. No one has praised the beginnings of Weitling and Proudhon more generously than Marx. That which the critical analysis of Hegelian philosophy had given him as the result of speculative thought, he now saw confirmed in real life chiefly by Weitling and Proudhon.

Franz Mehring, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (Marxists.org)

Weitling was clearly important, but what kind of character was he?
"Other members of the League of the Just fled to Switzerland, the most influential among them being Wilhelm Weitling (1809-1864). A tailor by trade, one of the first German revolutionists from among the artisan proletariat, Weitling, like many other German artisans of the time, peregrinated from town to town. In 1835 he found himself in Paris, but it was in 1837 that he settled there for long. In Paris he became a member of the League of the Just and familiarized himself with the teachings of Hugues Lamennais, the protagonist of Christian socialism, of Saint-Simon and Fourier. There he also met Blanqui and his followers. Towards the end of 1838 he wrote, at the request of his comrades, a pamphlet called Mankind As It Is and As It Ought To Be, in which he championed the ideas of communism.
In Switzerland Weitling and some friends, after an unsuccessful attempt to propagandise the Swiss, began to organise circles among the German workers and the emigrants. In 1842 he published his chief work, Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom. In this book he developed in greater detail the views he had expressed in 1838.
Influenced by Blanqui, Weitling's ideas differed from those of other contemporary utopians, in that he did not believe in a peaceful transition into communism. The new society, a very detailed plan of which was worked out by him, could only be realised through the use of force. The sooner existing society is abolished, the sooner will the people be freed. The best method is to bring the existing social disorder to the last extreme. The worse, the better! The most trustworthy revolutionary element which could be relied upon to wreck present society was, according to Weitling, the lowest grade proletariat, the lumpenproletariat, including even the robbers.

[...]

He was still trumpeting his idea that robbers and bandits were the most reliable elements in the war against the existing order. He did not attach much weight to propaganda. He visualised the future in the form of a communist society directed by a small group of wise men. To attract the masses, he deemed it indispensable to resort to the aid of religion. He made Christ the forerunner of communism, picturing communism as Christianity minus its later accretions.

[...]

In 1844 Weitling was one of the most popular and renowned men, not only among German workers but also among the German intelligentsia."

David Riazanov: "Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, An Introduction to Their Lives and Work" (Marxists.org)
Notice that Wilhelm Weitling's Christian beliefs in no way hindered him in advocating a most brutal revolution, utilizing criminal elements. And despite Weitling later falling out of the good company, it's clear that Marx and Engels had much to learn from the Christian Weitling, or they would not have continued to throw praise on him.

Marx and Engels, were Atheists to the core, however. There's no doubt about that. But you can at the same time see that the inspiration for Communism as ideology was prior to them in many ways driven by religious arguments. Communism never came about because of Atheism. Communism merely assumed Atheism, but Atheism was not a priority.
I must again refer to Lenin:
"At the same time Engels [...] condemned [...] an explicit proclamation of atheism, in the sense of declaring war on religion. [...] Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out.

[...]

Why does religion retain its hold on the backward sections of the town proletariat, on broad sections of the semi-proletariat, and on the mass of the peasantry? Because of the ignorance of the people, replies the bourgeois progressist, the radical or the bourgeois materialist. And so: “Down with religion and long live atheism; the dissemination of atheist views is our chief task!” The Marxist says that this is not true, that it is a superficial view, the view of narrow bourgeois uplifters."

V. I. Lenin, The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion, 1900
Some other writings:
"The term [Communism] spread rapidly, so that Karl Marx could entitle one of his first political articles of 16 October 1842 Der Kommunismus und die Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung. He noted that ‘communism’ was already an international movement, manifesting itself in Britain and Germany besides France, and traced its origin to Plato. He could have mentioned ancient Jewish sects and early Christian monasteries too. [...]The first attempts to arrive at a communist society (leaving aside early, medieval and more modern christian communities)[...]"

Ernest Mandel, Communism (The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics), (1990)

"The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working-class movement. Like the latter, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome. Both Christianity and the workers' socialism preach forthcoming salvation from bondage and misery; Christianity places this salvation in a life beyond, after death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a transformation of society. Both are persecuted and baited, their adherents are despised and made the objects of exclusive laws, the former as enemies of the human race, the latter as enemies of the state, enemies of religion, the family, social order. And in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it, they forge victoriously, irresistibly ahead. Three hundred years after its appearance Christianity was the recognized state religion in the Roman World Empire, and in barely sixty years socialism has won itself a position which makes its victory absolutely certain."

On The History Of Early Christianity By Frederick Engels, From Die Neue Zeit, Vol. 1, 1894-95 (PDF)

OK, so now I've shown that Communism as an ideology had its root in Christianity, in the Reformation to be more precise, and that Communists in the 1800s could perfectly well be Christians, that the immediate "forefather" of Marx and Engels was a Christian with a taste for violent revolutions, and that Lenin didn't mind Christian support for a higher goal and that Millitant Atheists were persona non grata in the struggle for world communism.

What I'm not trying to do is to shift all the blame back onto Christianity. It's not what it is about. This is about putting Communism were it belongs: with the workers' rights and all those things that most of us learnt at school. But it's also important to see that the ideals of Communism did indeed have their root in Christianity. However, Atheism became a tenet of Communism as we know it today, and it was a bit more important than mustaches, but as Lenin pointed out, Bourgeois atheism existed long before (modern) Communism and it continued to exist independently from Communism in the West during the Cold War.
And Atheism is still on the rise while Communism is dead.

I for one will continue my narrow Bourgeois Atheist uplifting.

I would have liked to dig more, and throw more evidence on the table(there is more), but to go through all sorts of Communist writings is time consuming. Marxists.org has an excellent archive. Browse it or use Google to search like this "site:marxists.org Weitling Christian". There is also an article at Wikipedia called Christian Communism.

7 comments:

Jan Egil Kristiansen said...

I need to FAV that Flickr image. What is the URL of it's page?

Bryan said...

This is based on a misunderstanding of the difference between communalism and communism. Communalism relies on the voluntary interaction of individuals whereas communism relies on the initiation of coercive force and acts of aggression such as murder, theft, slavery and fraud.

Strappado said...

Bryan: Are you saying that Engels did not know what he was on about? Communalism wasn't even mentioned. However if you try this at Google: "site:marxists.org communalism" you'll see that Communalism is a much more recent third world ideology.
I also think your definition of Communism left something to be desired. ;)

But that's beside the point. I'm not trying to discuss specific branches, like Communism, Socialism, Marxism etc. I'm only showing where it all came from - Christians - and that plenty of Christians were involved, even with making plans for violent revolution, like "the first German Communist" Wilhelm Weitling. Thus I'm showing that the McCarthyistic accusations against Atheism are completely wrong. I have no other mission.

Jan Egil: There you go. :) Thanks!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/7934101@N05/2331830273/

Bryan said...

Engels was a fallible human being, just like the rest of us.

Even Marx, who coined the term 'capitalism', was incorrect about the economic system he named. The prevalent system of the time of which he wrote would more accurately be defined as mercantilism then or corporatism today.

I didn't define communism. I only stated that it relies on force. Communism, as a political ideology, must entail the use of force to be sustained. Like all Utopian ideologies, it fails to take into account basic human nature.

Unfortunately, there is more often than not a wide gap between Christian acts and the actions of Christians. We are our own worst enemy as is well illustrated by the actions of the crusaders, the Spanish inquisition ... "No one expects the Spanish inquisition!" ... and our lovely brothers, the right wing, Fascist Neo-conservatives. Aren't they a swell bunch?

Many wrongs have been committed under the banner of various religions and ideologies.

I'm a Christian, but what I practice is like what we should have all learned as kids. Don't hurt each other or take what's not yours or lie. Or as my Wiccan friends say, "Do no harm."

I'm also a libertarian, which I take as a personal responsibility to carry over my personal beliefs into my political beliefs. If I don't have the right to murder, then I cannot abdicate that right to the individuals in government. I don't have the right to steal, therefor I cannot abdicate that right either ... and so on. I like libertarianism. It means I can have friends of all kinds of beliefs and I don't have to force them to convert or confess.

It's a pretty simplistic philosophy, but it works for me. And, if when I die I discover I was wrong about Christianity, at least I've kept my damage to others to a minimum.

Peace,liberty, justice and prosperity,
Bryan

Anonymous said...

It's well known the communist revolution was lead by Jews. Their actions to stay in power was very UN-christian.

Jonathan Langley said...

Gosh, what an excellent piece. As a Christian socialist I found that really helpful, even if i didn't agree with your conclusions. thanks for posting a well researched bit of history there. For my own part, i wish more Christians understood the relationship between communism and their faith.
ta

stevec said...

Well, 2 year old post, but...

Bryan, read the book of Acts. Voluntary? Read the story of of Sapphira and her husband -- killed by God (if you believe Peter) or by Peter (if you don't believe Peter) for not giving up THEIR OWN MONEY.

You cannot read and comprehend the book of Acts without realizing that it is Communism. Voluntary? Ask Sapphira about that. Oh, right, she's fucking dead, because Peter MURDERED HER FOR HER MONEY.