The Philosophical and Religious History of Communism

As you can imagine, there are several types and degrees of communism. In its theoretically absolute form, all property and all persons within the commune belong to the commune. In other words, people are included in the term “property”. All individuals within control of the commune are subjugated to the will of the commune. The needs of the commune come before the needs of any individual. No one owns any property or belongings. There are no individual families or living quarters. All wives, husbands and children are shared equally. Each person’s role in the commune is determined by the commune, including work responsibilities. While everyone will have a job, the fruits of that labor will be shared equally. The commune will replace religion and all members of the commune will share the same priorities and values. Children will be “institutionalized” at an early age, meaning that any semblance of “free-will” will be stripped from all of them. They will be taught to conform to normalcy as defined by the commune. All decisions, rules, laws and punishments will be determined by the commune or passed down from prior generations. Safety, security and the common defense is everyone’s responsibility. While each individual would be a member of the commune and therefore, would have a say in all decisions, the individual is in essence a slave to the will of the commune.

Biblical Communism

There are examples of communism in both the Jewish and Christian religions. For example, note the following passage regarding God’s instructions to the early Israelites:

This is what the Lord has commanded: Gather of it, every man of you, as much as he can eat; you shall take an omer (unit of measure) apiece, according to the number of persons who each of you has in his tent. And the people of Israel did so; they gathered some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; each gathered according to what he could eat. [1]

There was also the ancient Jewish sect known in early writings as the Essenes. This was reputedly the group that hid the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition to the scrolls archeologists have uncovered several artifacts that provide a picture into their lives. We know that at least one group lived communally in a walled city at the top of a cliff which overlooked the Dead Sea. Josephus was one of the early Roman historians that chronicled the Essenes:

He relates information concerning piety, celibacy, the absence of personal property and of money, the belief in communality and commitment to a strict observance of Sabbath. He further adds that the Essenes ritually immersed in water every morning, ate together after prayer, devoted themselves to charity and benevolence, forbade the expression of anger, studied the books of the elders, preserved secrets, and were very mindful of the names of the angels kept in their sacred writings. [2]

In the New Testament of the Bible, the Book of Acts describes communism among the early Christians:

“All that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” [3]

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas. He sold a field that belonged to him then brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. [4]

Chapter 5 of Acts describes the punishment for not giving it all to the church:

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. [5]

Today, in the Catholic Church Nuns, Monks, Bishops and even the Pope take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, with all property belonging to the Catholic Church.

Communism According To Plato

Plato (429–347 BCE) wrote The Republic as a Socratic dialogue, where Socrates discusses the concept of justice with other philosophers. He argues the merits and definition of a “just human” and a “just city”. To make his point, he describes a hypothetical ideal city/state which he named Kallipolis. In Plato’s ideal society there exists three main classes of people — producers (craftsmen, farmers, artisans, etc.), auxiliaries (warriors), and guardians (rulers). Each group must limit their activities and authority to the specialization that has been assigned to them. [6]

In the Guardian Class, Plato believed that the ideal rulers would be made up of paternalistic, elite intellectuals who could best be described as benevolent, dictatorial oligarchs. The “Guardians” would write, administer and interpret the laws that govern the ideal “City-State”. Only philosophers would be allowed to rule, however, the citizens would choose leaders from this group. Once in office the rulers would devote their lives to the best interest of the citizens as a whole, but would be given absolute control, even at the expense of individual rights.

It is in the Guardian Classes that Plato advocated communism. He argued that greed, power and family should be eliminated from the temptations, concerns and lives of the ruling class (but only the ruling class). Therefore, they would not be allowed to have personal possessions or wealth and would even share wives, husbands and children.

Utopian Communism

Thomas More (1478–1535) in his fictitious book Utopia, described what he considered the ideal society, which like other philosophical communists meant no private property. All necessary consumer goods, including medicine were simply warehoused and handed out to the citizens as needed. Since there were no unfulfilled needs on More’s Hypothetical Island, crime was at a minimum. Convicted criminals would be shackled and kept as slaves. Locks were considered unnecessary and houses were rotated between citizens every ten years.

All able-bodied citizens worked and would be provided employment, minimizing the work day to six hours. Similar to Plato’s “Philosophers”, “Scholars” were chosen to be the ruling class and in positions of religious authority. The brightest students were picked to be groomed for these positions.

Communism According To Lennon

Arguably the most colorful vision of Communism was provided by John Lennon in the song Imagine:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one [7]

The song contains the basic ingredients for communism: no religion, no nations, and no private property. In other words, the world is seen as one, huge, giant classless collective. Of course, it sounds beautiful: “Imagine all the people living life in peace”, “No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man, imagine all the people sharing all the world…” But in reality: Is communism that simple, that beautiful, or even in accord with human nature?

Notes

1. The Bible, Exodus. 16:16–18

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essenes Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization

3. The Bible, Acts 2:44–45

4. The Bible, Acts 4:34–37

5. The Bible, Acts 5:1–10

6. SparkNotes LLC, http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/republic/summary.html

7. Lennon, John lyrics, Imagine, EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Categories Other Articles by Daniel CameronTags , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close