Pre-Marxist communism

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While Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels defined communism as a political movement, there were already similar ideas in the past, which one could call communist experiments.[1] Marx, himself, saw primitive communism as the original, hunter-gatherer state of humankind. For Marx, only after humanity was capable of producing surplus did private property develop.

The idea of a classless, stateless society based on communal ownership of property and wealth also stretches far back in Western thought long before The Communist Manifesto. There are scholars who have traced communist ideas back to ancient times, particularly in the work of Pythagoras and Plato. For instance, it is argued that Plato's The Republic described in great detail a communist-dominated society wherein power is delegated in the hands of intelligent philosopher or military guardian class and rejected the concept of family and private property.[2]

There are also those who view that the early Christian Church, such as that one described in the Acts of the Apostles (see Christian communism), was an early form of Communism. The view is that Communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus Christ as the first communist.[3] This link was highlighted in one of Marx's early writings, which stated that "As Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty."[3] Furthermore, the Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god, who does not discriminate among people. [4]

Pre-Marxist communism was also present in the attempts to establish communistic societies such as those made by the Essenes and by the Judean desert sect.

Muntzer also led a large Anabaptist Communist movement during the German Peasants' War.

In the 16th century, the English writer Sir Thomas More portrayed a society based on common ownership of property in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through the application of reason.

Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers, who espoused clear communistic but agrarian ideals. (Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile – see Bernstein's classic book Cromwell and Communism). Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century, through such thinkers as the deeply religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox Roman Catholic bishops, who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century to stop secularization and Protestantism. One of the main jansenist aims was democratizing to stop the aristocratic corruption at the top of the church hierarchy.[5][page needed] "Utopian socialist" writers such as Robert Owen are also sometimes regarded as communists.

Maximilien Robespierre and his reign of terror, aimed at exterminating the nobility and conservatives, was greatly admired among communists. Robespierre was in his turn a great admirer of Rousseau. The Shakers of the 18th century practiced communalism as a sort of religious communism.

Some believe that early communist-like utopias also existed outside of Europe, in Native American society, and other pre-Colonialism societies in the Western Hemisphere. Almost every member of a tribe had his or her own contribution to society, and land and natural resources would often be shared peacefully among the tribe. Some such tribes in North America and South America still existed well into the twentieth century.

Karl Marx saw communism as the original state of mankind from which it rose, through classical society, and then feudalism, to its current state of capitalism. He proposed that the next step in social evolution would be a return to communism.

In its contemporary form, the ideology of communism grew out of the workers' movement of 19th-century Europe. As the Industrial Revolution advanced, socialist critics blamed capitalism for creating a class of poor, urban factory workers who toiled under harsh conditions, and for widening the gulf between rich and poor.


  1. ^ Perkins, Anne (2014). Trailblazers in Politics. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p. 88. ISBN 9781477781449. 
  2. ^ Ensign, Russell; Patsouras, Louis (1993). Challenging Social Injustice: Essays on Socialism and the Devaluation of the Human Spirit. The Edwin Mellen Press. p. 2. ISBN 0773493697. 
  3. ^ a b Houlden, Leslie; Minard, Antone (2015). Jesus in History, Legend, Scripture, and Tradition: A World Encyclopedia: A World Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 357. ISBN 9781610698047. 
  4. ^ Halfin, Igal (2000). From Darkness to Light: Class, Consciousness, and Salvation in Revolutionary Russia. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 46. ISBN 0822957043. 
  5. ^ Daniel Roche, La France des Lumières (Paris 1993).