Socialism is an interesting phenomenon with a history stemming all the way back to the Egyptians. Though most people today only associate Socialism with Marxism, Marx was only one of the most recent thinkers on this subject and when we look at the works of Marx in the context of all thinkers that have preceded him and Engels, we find that they are not overly original thinkers. If anything, Marx and Engels are more of an update to socialist thought that takes into account the developments that took place in the 19h century.
Now, what I want to do in this video is to go over some books by utopian thinkers that cover the period just preceding the enlightenment and leading up to but not including Marx. What I hope to achieve is to give to those who are interested in the subject of socialism a short whirlwind tour of what is referred to as chiliastic socialism, or how it is also called, Millennialism. Now, one thing that seems to encompass all of socialism is the notion of paradise on earth; the notion of creating a utopia. But where does this idea of the utopia come from? Well, it comes from the Bible, the book of Revelation chapter 20, sections 1 through 6. These sections describe that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which “Christ will reign” for 1000 years prior to the final judgment.
As we can see the notion of paradise on earth is quite old but we are not as concerned with the religious origins of the idea of paradise on earth as we are with the more commonly understood notion of a utopia and what this utopia is supposed to look like. The best place to start is with the book entitled Utopia by Thomas More which was published in 1516. Now, the timing of this book provides to us a clue as to why interest in utopian thinking really took off in the 16th century. The reformation of Luther started just a year after the publishing of this book. Tough this book had no role to play in why the reformation took place, both the existence of this book and the cause of the reformation itself share a common root. You see, in the 12th century came the rise of nominalism. Now, I don’t want to get into nominalism in this video as this is a very comprehensive topic that demands a video of its own. In fact, the first video in my series on modernity deals with the subject of nominalism extensively. For the purpose of this video, suffice to say that nominalism is responsible for the rise of humanism, modern science, the reformation, as well as the rise of utopian thinking. In a nutshell, nominalism caused a huge ripple in Christian theology whose effects we are feeling to this day.
Now, back to Thomas More.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century, just before the Reformation, Thomas More’s Utopia appeared. This book exhibited numerous features of the new socialist literature. In this work we first meet the literary devices that are later to become standard such as descriptions of travel to a far-off land and the discovery of a previously unknown, exotic place where the ideals of socialism have been realized. Not surprisingly, the title of this work has become one of the terms denoting the teaching of socialism as a whole; namely utopian socialism.
This book was first published in 1516, and its complete title is: “A Truly Golden Handbook, No Less Beneficial than Entertaining, About the Best State of the Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia.” At the time, its author was an influential English statesman with a brilliant career. In 1529, More became Lord Chancellor of England, the first office below the king. But in 1534 he emerged as a strong opponent of the Church reform that was being carried out by Henry VIII.
He refused to swear allegiance to the king as head of the newly created Anglican Church, was accused of high treason and beheaded in 1535. Four centuries later, in 1935, he was canonized by the Catholic Church.
Now, Utopia is a republic governed by elected officials who are called “Fathers” by their subjects. All of life is regulated by the state. There is no private property and no money. The economy is based on universal labor conscription. In the first place, everyone is obliged to work for a certain period of time in agriculture: “For all men and women there is one common occupationagriculture, from which no one is exempted.” Upon reaching a certain age, citizens are sent to work in the countryside, where they labor for two years before being transferred back to the city. Apart from this, everyone learns some craft, which he practices when he is not at his assigned work. Work is done under the supervision of officials called “syphogrants.” “The main and sole occupation of the syphogrants is care and observation lest anyone sit idle.” The state also regulates the distribution of the population by means of mass resettlements.
The idea of equality among the citizens of Utopia is a common theme but then we learn that life in Utopia is largely based on slavery. Slaves do all the dirty work. But slavery seems to have more than just an economic function. Slaves are obtained from two sources: “Their slaves are either their own citizens who have been sentenced to bondage for some crime, or men of other nations who have been condemned to death. The Utopians buy these men at a low price, or more often obtain them free of charge and bring them home.” “All kinds of slaves are kept constantly at work and are always chained. The Utopians treat their native slaves more harshly than the others, thinking them baser and deserving of greater punishment.” It is thought that the labor of such people brings more use than their death would. At the same time, their example deters others. “If even after this treatment they still rebel and put up resistance, they are slaughtered like wild beasts.”
The account of the Utopians includes a description of the prevailing philosophical views of the citizens, based as they are on the notion that pleasure is the supreme goal of life. But pleasure can be renounced.
Now, I know that when we talk about a world without money we innevitably ask the question of who would be motivated to work? Well, the answer is quite simple. In the utopian society you are forced to work and in a utopian society we also have slaves to do all the crappy work. Of course, if you choose to be idle, you too become a slave, and still if you choose to be idle, you are slaughtered like a wild beast. So, ya; socialists indeed do have an answer for how people would be motivated to work when money no longer exists.
Now, after the publication of Utopia we turn to a work entitled The Law of Freedom by Gerrard Winstanley published in 1652.
“The Law of Freedom” begins with a salutation to “His Excellency Oliver Cromwell, General of the Commonwealth’s Army in England, Scotland and Ireland.”
Winstanley points out to Cromwell that despite the victory of the revolution and the execution of the king, the position of the common folk has not improved. They continue to be burdened with taxes and to suffer under the sway of the rich, the lawyers and the priests. The promise that “all popery and episcopacy and tyranny should be rooted out” has not been kept; the soldiers now ask what they were fighting for. And Winstanley appeals to Cromwell to give true liberty to the oppressed common people.
The main part of the work begins with an attempt “to find out where true freedom lies.” Winstanley believes that it resides in the free use of the fruits of the earth. “A man had better to have had no body than to have no food for it.” More specifically, true freedom consists of the free use of land. For the sake of land, kings declare wars, ministers preach, and the rich oppress the poor. And this “outer bondage” engenders “inner bondage”: “the inward bondages of the mind, as covetousness, pride, hypocrisy, envy, sorrow, fears, desperation and madness, are all occasioned by the outward bondage that one sort of people lay upon another.”
Proceeding from this materialist view of society, Winstanley develops a plan for a new social structure in which private land use is abolished and where “external” and “internal” bondage disappear as a result. Subordination of private interests to common interests is put forward as the basic principle of social organization. “There is but bondage and freedom, particular interest or common interest; and he who pleads to bring in particular interest into a free commonwealth will presently be seen and cast out, as one bringing in kingly slavery again.”
More specifically, according to Winstanley’s scheme, private land ownership, trade and money are done away with. Land is tilled by individual large families under the supervision and control of state officials. Implements are kept in each family but not as private possessions: the head of the family is responsible for their care, under penalty of law. Horses are allotted by the state. After the harvest, all produce is brought to a state warehouse.
Craftsmen are in the same position; they get raw materials from state storehouses and deliver their products there. They work either in families or in communal workshops. Citizens are transferred by the administration from one family to another, depending on the demand for manpower or their skills for a specific job.
Besides free citizens, those who have been deprived of their freedom by the courts also work. Sometimes Winstanley refers to them as bondsmen. They work at the same jobs as the free men but generally do the more menial tasks. They are supervised by officials called taskmasters.
“If they do their tasks, the taskmaster is to allow them sufficient victuals and clothing to preserve the health of their bodies. But if they prove desperate, wanton or idle, and will not quietly submit to the law, the taskmaster is to feed them with short diet, and to whip them, for a rod is prepared for the fool’s back, till such time as their proud hearts do bend to the law….
“And if any of these offenders run away, there shall be hue and cry sent after him, and he shall die by the sentence of the judge when taken again.”
The status of slave does not automatically extend to relatives, if they have done no wrong. The purpose of slavery is to reeducate citizens who have strayed in order to “kill their pride and unreasonableness, that they may become useful men in the commonwealth.”
All necessities are obtained from state shops free of charge. Here, a difficulty clearly arises, for “covetous, proud and beastlyminded men desire more, either to lie by them to look upon, or else to waste and spoil it upon their lusts; while other brethren live in straits for want of the use thereof. But the laws and faithful officers of a free commonwealth do regulate the unrational practice of such men.” Indeed, according to the law, the head of a family that consumes more than it needs is punished first by public reprimand and then by being made a bondsman for a fixed term. The same solution is proposed for another difficultyhow to provide motivation for everyone to work the necessary time and with the necessary productivity in the absence of a material incentive. A citizen who refuses to carry out assigned work or a youth avoiding apprenticeship in a craft is first punished by public reprimand. If this does not help, he is then whipped, and should he repeat his offense once more, he is made a bondsman.
Again we have imposed labor and slavery.
The next work on our list is The Code of Nature or the True Spirit of the Law by Morelly published in 1755
At the root of Morelly’s system is a notion about the natural state or the “code of nature” to which mankind should adhere in order to live a moral and happy life. The breaking away from the natural state was caused by private property, the cause of all human misery. Only by abolishing it will mankind return to its natural and happy state.
Part four of the work contains a system of laws which, according to Morelly, ought to serve as the foundation of an ideal society.
A central place is occupied by three “fundamental and inviolable laws.” The first abolishes private property. An exception is made only for things which a person uses “for his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.” The second law proclaims all the citizens to be public persons whom the state provides with work and maintenance. The third law proclaims universal obligatory service “in conformity with the Distributive Laws.”
All citizens from the age of twenty to twentyfive are obliged to be engaged in agriculture; they are then either retained in their place or made artisans. At the age of forty, everyone has the right of free choice of profession.
Everything produced is distributed through communal storehouses. Trade and barter are forbidden by the “inviolable law.” The population lives in towns broken up into equal blocks. All buildings are of the same shape. Everyone wears clothing of the same fabric.
Now, this one seems a little more benign until you get into the details but I will leave that as an exercise to the reader. The final work on this list I consider the most interesting as it was the direct influencer of Marx and Engels.
Let us now take a look at one of the theoreticians of socialism in the eighteenth century, the Benedictine monk Deschamps. During his lifetime, he published Letters on the Spirit of the Times (1769) and The Voice of Reason Against the Voice of Nature (1770), both anonymously. But his most original ideas are contained in his Truth or the True System, which remained in manuscript and was published only in its completed form around the 1970s.
Deschamps is the author of one of the most striking and internally consistent socialist systems. He is also a philosopher of the highest order, and is sometimes referred to as a precursor of Hegel. That is unquestionably correct, but while following a path similar to the one Hegel would take later, Deschamps also developed many concepts which were to be enunciated by Hegel’s disciples of the left; namely, Feuerbach, Engels, and Marx. And in his conception of Nothingness he anticipates in many respects the contemporary existentialists.
Deschamps considers God to be an idea created by mankind, a product of definite social relations based on private property. Religion did not exist before these relations took shape, and it will no longer exist when they are destroyed. Religion itself is not only the result of the oppression of people but also a means facilitating this oppression. It is one of the basic obstacles to the transition of mankind to a happier social condition.
Deschamps says: “The word ‘God’ must be eliminated from our languages.” Nevertheless, he was a passionate opponent of atheism. Of his system he has the following to say: “At first glance, it might be possible to think that it is a concise formulation of atheism, for all religion is destroyed in it. But upon consideration, it is impossible not to be convinced that it is not a formulation of atheism at all, for in place of a rational and moral God, I set being in the metaphysical sense, which is the basis of morality that is far from arbitrary.”
Deschamps has in mind his understanding of the universe, to which he ascribed three specific aspects. The first is totality, that is, the universe as a unity of all its parts. This totality is the “basis whose manifestations are all visible beings,” but which has another, nonphysical nature which is unlike its parts. Therefore, it cannot be seen but can be comprehended by reason. The second aspect is everything, that is, the universe as a single concept.
“Totality presupposes the presence of the parts. Everything does not presuppose this.. ..I understand everything as existence in itself, existence by itself. ..in other words. ..existence through nothing but itself.” “Everything, not consisting of parts, exists; it is inseparable from totality, which consists of parts and of which everything is simultaneously a confirmation and a negation.”
But perhaps the most striking of Deschamps’s three aspects of the universe is the third; it stresses the negative character of definitions of everything. “Everything is no longer a mass of entities but a mass without parts. ..not a single entity existing in many entities. .. but a singular entity which denies any existence apart from itself. .. about which it is possible only to deny that which is asserted in the other for it is not sentient and not the result of sentient entities but, rather, nothing, nonbeing itself, which alone cannot be anything but the negation of what is sentient.” “Everything is nothing.” “No doubt no one before me has ever written that everything and nothing are one and the same.”
For Deschamps, this principle is basic to his doctrine on existence: “What is the cause of existence? Answer: Its cause resides in the fact that nothing is something, in that it is existence, in that it is everything.” Here he finds a place for God as well: “God is nothing, nonexistence itself.” Apparently, these principles, along with the deductions resulting from them, are what Deschamps opposes to atheism, which he declares a purely negative, destructive doctrine. He calls it the “atheism of cattle,” i.e., of beings who have not overcome religion, and who have not even developed to the level of religion.
Now, Deschamps’s arrogant and scornful attitude toward contemporary philosophers of the Enlightenment is connected with this view. He accuses them of creating unscientific schemes based on fantasy.
“Let our destroyerphilosophers realize how futile and worthless were their efforts directed against God and religion. The philosophers were powerless to carry out their task, until they touched upon the existence of the civil condition, which alone is the cause of the appearance of the idea of a moral and universal being and of all religions.” “The condition of universal equality does not derive logically from the doctrine of atheism. It always seemed, to our atheists as well as to the majority of people, to be a product of fantasy.”
And fantasies of this sort are by no means harmless. There are only two ways out: the path proposed by religion and Deschamps’s system. To undermine religion before the ground is prepared for the author’s system is to hasten the coming of a destructive revolution. In The Voice of Reason, Deschamps says:
“This revolution will obviously have its source in the contemporary philosophical trends, although the majority does not suspect this. It will have much more lamentable consequences and bring much more destruction than any revolution caused by heresy. But is this revolution not already beginning? Has destruction not already befallen the foundations of religion, are they not ready to collapse, and all the rest as well?”
To the negative character of the philosopher’s atheism Deschamps opposes what he sees as the positive character of his own system:
“The system I am proposing deprives us of the joys of paradise and the terrors of helljust like atheismbut, in contrast to atheism, it leaves no doubt as to the rightness of the destruction of hell and paradise. Beyond that, it gives us the supremely important conviction, which atheism does not and can never give, that for us paradise can exist only in one place, namely, in this world.”
Deschamps’s social and historical doctrine is based on metaphysics. It is derived from a conception of the evolution of mankind in the direction of the greatest manifestation of the idea of oneness, of totality:
“The idea of totality is equivalent to the idea of order, harmony, unity, equality, perfection. The condition of unity or the social condition derives from the idea of totality, which is itself unity and union; for purposes of their own wellbeing, people must live in a social condition.”
The mechanism of this evolution is the development of the social institutions which determine all other aspects of human lifelanguage, religion, morality and so on:
“It would be absurd to suppose that man came from the hands of God already mature, moral and possessing the ability to speak: speech developed along with society as it became what it is today.”
Deschamps considers various manifestations of evil to be the result of social conditions; he includes even homosexuality, for example. The social institutions themselves take shape under the influence of material factors such as the necessity of hunting in groups and the guarding of herds, as well as the advantages of man’s physical structure; in particular, that of his hand.
Deschamps divides the entire historical process into three stages or states through which mankind must pass:
“For man there exist only three states: the savage state or the state of the animals in the forest; the state of law, and the state of morals. The first is a state of disunity without unity, without society; the second stateoursone of extreme disunity within unity, and the third is the state of unity without disunity. This last is without doubt the only state capable of providing people, insofar as this is possible, with strength and happiness.”
In the savage state people are much happier than in the state of law, in which contemporary civilized mankind lives:
“The state of law for us …is undoubtedly far worse than the savage state.” This is true with respect to contemporary primitive peoples: “We treat them with disdain, yet there is no doubt that their condition is far less irrational than ours.”
But it is impossible for us to return to the savage state, which had to collapse and give birth to the state of law by force of objective causesfirst and foremost, by the appearance of inequality, authority and private property.
Private property is the basic cause of all the vices inherent in the state of law: “The notions of thine and mine in relation to earthly blessings and women exist only under cover of our morals, giving birth to all the evil that sanctions these morals.”
The state of law, in Deschamps’s opinion, is the state of the greatest misfortune for the greatest number of people. Evil itself is considered an outgrowth of this state: “Evil in man is present only due to the existing civil state, which endlessly contradicts man’s nature. There was no such evil in man when he was in a savage state.”
But those very aspects of the state of law that make it especially unbearable prepare the transition to the state of morals which seems to be that paradise on earth about which Deschamps spoke in a passage quoted earlier. His description, replete with vivid detail, contains one of the most unique and consistent of socialist utopias.
All of life in the state of morals will be completely subordinated to one goalthe maximum implementation of the idea of equality and communality. People will live without mine and thine, all specialization will disappear, as will the division of labor.
“Women would be the common property of men, as men would be the common possession of women. …Children would not belong to any particular man or woman.” “Women capable of giving suck and who were not pregnant would nurse all children without distinction. …But how is it, you will object, that a woman is not to have her own children? No, indeed! What would she need that property for?” The author is not alarmed by the fact that such a way of life would lead to incest. “They say that incest goes against nature. But in fact it is merely against the nature of our morals.” All people “would know only society and would belong only to it, the sole proprietor.”
For transition into this state, much that is now considered of value would have to be destroyed, including “everything that we call beautiful works of art. This sacrifice would undoubtedly be a great one, but it would be necessary to make.” It is not only the artspoetry, painting, architecturethat would have to disappear, but science and technology as well. People would no longer build ships or study the globe. “And why should they need the learning of a Copernicus, a Newton and a Cassini?”
Language will be simplified and much less rich, and people will begin to speak one stable and unchanging language. Writing will disappear, together with the tedious chore of learning to read and write. Children will not study at all and, instead, will learn everything they need to know by imitating their elders.
The necessity of thinking will also fall away: “In the savage state no one thought or reasoned, because no one needed to. In the state of law, one thinks and reasons because one needs to; in the state of morals, one will neither think nor reason because no one will have any need to do this any longer.” One of the most vivid illustrations of this change of consciousness will be the disappearance of all books. They will find a use in the only thing that they are in reality good for lighting stoves; apparently there will be stoves in Deschamps utopia. All books ever written had as their goal the preparation for the book which would prove their uselessnessDeschamps’s study. It will outlive the rest, but finally it, too, will be burned.
People’s lives will be simplified and made easier. They will scarcely use any metals; instead, almost everything will be made of wood. No large houses will be built and people will live in wooden huts. “Their furniture would consist only of benches, shelves and tables.” “Fresh straw, which would later be used as cattle litter, would serve them as a good bed on which they would all rest together, men and women, after having put to bed the aged and the children, who would sleep separately.” Food would be primarily vegetarian and, thus, easy to prepare. “In their modest existence they would need to know very few things, and these would be just the things that are easy to learn.” This change of life style is connected to fundamental psychic changes, which would tend to make “the inclination of each at the same time the common inclination.” Individual ties between people and intense individual feelings would disappear.
“There would be none of the vivid but fleeting sensations of the happy lover, the victorious hero, the ambitious man who had achieved his goal, or the laureled artist.” “All days would be alike.” And people would even come to resemble one another. “In the state of morals, no one would weep or laugh. All faces would be almost identical and would express satisfaction. In the eyes of men, all women would resemble all other women; and all men would be like all other men in the eyes of women!” People’s heads “will be as harmonious as they now are dissimilar.” “Much more than in our case, they would adhere to a similar mode of action in everything, and they would not conclude that this demonstrates a lack of reason or understanding, as we think about animals.”
This new society will give rise to a new world view. “And they would not doubtand this would not frighten them in the leastthat people, too, exist only as a result of the vicissitudes of life and someday are destined to perish as a consequence of the same vicissitudes and, perhaps, to be eventually reproduced once more by means of a transformation from one aspect to another.” “Because they, like us, would not take into account that they were dead earlier, that is, that their constituent parts did not exist in the past in human form; they would also, being more consistent than we, not place any significance on the termination of this existence in this form in the future.”
“Their burials would not be distinguishable from those of cattle.” For: “their dead fellows would not mean more to them than dead cattle. …They would not be attached to any particular person sufficiently so that they would feel his death as a personal loss and mourn it.” “They would die a quiet death, a death that would resemble their lives.”
So there you go guys, this is what utopia is supposed to look like. But, these are only 4 specific texts of a much larger collection of movements and works throughout history. Through my research I found that Socialism has 4 overarching themes that are almost universally found in all socialist thinking regardless of time and place. They are the following:
1. The Abolition of Private Property
The fundamental nature of this principle is emphasized, for instance, by Marx and Engels: “The theory of Communism may be summed up in a single sentence: ‘Abolition of private property,'” (Communist Manifesto).
This proposition, in its negative form, is inherent in all socialist doctrines without exception and is the basic feature of all socialist states. But in its positive form, as an assertion about the actual nature of property in a socialist society, it is less universal and appears in two distinct variants: the overwhelming majority of socialist doctrines proclaim the communality of property (implemented in more or less radical fashion), while socialist states (and some doctrines) are based on state property.
2. The Abolition of the Family
The majority of socialist doctrines proclaim the abolition of the family. In other doctrines, as well as in certain socialist states, this proposition is not proclaimed in such radical form, but the principle appears as a deemphasis of the role of the family, the weakening of family ties, the abolition of certain functions of the family. Again, the negative form of the principle is more common. As a positive statement about specific relationships between the sexes or between parents and children, it appears in several variants as the total obliteration of the family, communality of wives and the destruction of all ties between parent and child to the point where they may not even know each other; as an impairment and a weakening of family ties; or as the transformation of the family into a unit of the bureaucratic state subjected to its goals and control.
3. The Abolition of Religion
It is especially easy for us to observe socialism’s hostility to religion, for this is inherent, with few exceptions, in all contemporary socialist states and doctrines. Only rarely is the abolition of religion legislated, as it was in Albania. But the actions of other socialist states leave no doubt that they are all governed by this very principle and that only external difficulties have prevented its complete implementation. This same principle has been repeatedly proclaimed in socialist doctrines, beginning with the end of the seventeenth century. Sixteenth and seventeenth century doctrines are imbued with cold skeptical and ironic attitudes toward religion. If not consciously, then “objectively,” they prepared humanity for the convergence of socialist ideology and militant atheism that took place at the end of the seventeenth century and during the course of the eighteenth.
The heretical movements of the Middle Ages were religious in character, but those in which socialist tendencies were especially pronounced were the ones that were irrevocably opposed to the actual religion professed by the majority at the time. Calls to assassinate the Pope and to annihilate all monks and priests run like a red thread through the history of these movements. Their hatred for the basic symbols of Christianitythe cross and the churchis very striking. We encounter the burning of crosses and the profanation of churches from the first centuries of Christianity right up to the present day.
4. Communality or Equality
This demand is encountered in almost all socialist doctrines. Its negative form is seen in the striving to destroy the hierarchy of the surrounding society and it calls “to humble the proud, the rich and the powerful,” to abolish privilege. This tendency frequently gives rise to hostility toward culture as a factor contributing to spiritual and intellectual inequality and, as a result, leads to a call for the destruction of culture itself. The most recent formulation of this view can be found in contemporary leftist movements in the West which consider culture “individualistic,” “repressive,” “suffocating,” and call for “ideological guerrilla warfare against culture.”
In this light, any movement that wished to retain private property, retain the cohesion of the family, retain religion, and de-emphasized communality and equality is fundamentally anti-socialist.
Thanks for listening.