A Countercultural Religious Left response to the Dominant Culture’s Religious Right
*** Part 3 of 5
A. Allen Butcher • The School of Intentioneering • Denver, Colorado • November 4, 2020
For definitions of terms and explanations of concepts see the glossary at the end of Part 5.
Toward an Age of Equality – Part 3 of 5 – The Communitarian Dream
The Communal Ideal of 19th century Marxist Communism
Realized in 20th century Egalitarian Communities
The idea that monetary economics is designed to benefit the few to the detriment of the many is an old story. Ideas for fixing that problem go back to the first communal organizations, even before the early Christians adopted the communal lifestyle, which involves giving up the use of money and private-property within the communal society.
It was during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that people began thinking of using the monetary system itself to create and preserve some degree of economic equality, and ever since then more and more ways for creating economic fairness within monetary economics have been devised and are being implemented and enjoyed. At the same time, people have also continued to perfect the practice of getting outside of monetary economics through communal economics, which has required the invention and development of some kind of economic system to replace money. Following is a condensed version of that story.
Arthur Bestor writes that the early cooperative and communitarian movements, inspired largely by the work of Robert Owen (1771-1858) in the British Isles and America, first used the term socialist in the London Cooperative Magazine (vol. 2) of 1827, nearly 200 years ago, making the term “their own distinctive label in the middle 1830s [when] socialism meant Owenism and nothing else.” By 1827 the English terms socialist and socialism meant class-harmony, while communist and communism, developed by underground secret societies in Paris by 1840, was used to refer specifically to class-conflict, or “revolutionary militancy.” (Bestor, pp. 277-80, 288, 290-1)
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 18th century England the operative idea of the counterculture was to use time as a medium of exchange within a cooperative community, rather than use the official currency, believing that this was the best way for workers to realize the full benefit of their labor, rather than sell their labor to employers who take as much of the wealth generated by labor as they can get. After 140 years of intermittent experimentation with forms of paper scrip denominated in minutes or hours of done labor, to use in exchange for goods and services within the community group, a method was finally invented in 1967 for using time as a method for coordinating the sharing of labor, rather than the exchange of labor-for-labor. The distinction between sharing and exchanging labor defines the difference between communal and cooperative groups. For a detailed story of the history of communalism and cooperation see The Intentioneer’s Bible.
England was the first country to industrialize, and so it was also the first country to experiment with industrial cooperation, beginning with paternalistic business owners taking good care of their workers, evolving into workers organizing production on their own as member-owners of cooperatives. Cooperative and union organizing developed apace, and one person in England in particular is associated with all those movements: Robert Owen, a Welsh textile businessman.
On the European continent something else was brewing along with the rise of industrialism. This was a long-festering disdain and seething hatred for extreme economic inequality, leading to the justification for revolutionary violence, and one person in particular is associated with those movements: Karl Marx, a Prussian (German) ethnic Jew raised Christian, who studied law and philosophy before working as a journalist.
During the last century of the French monarchy, expatriate radical German workers and others in Paris created secret societies opposing the concentration of wealth and power in autocratic government, where they began an outlaw organization in 1836 originally called “League of the Just.” For reference to other 19th century Parisian underground secret societies see Arthur Bestor’s The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary. (Bestor, p. 291)
Among the influencers and leaders of the League of the Just were the French advocates of revolutionary violence, Francois Noel Babeuf (1764-1797) and Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881). Babeuf “was so virulent in his abuse of authority and so radical in his activities that in 1797 he was guillotined.” Blanqui was a violent direct-actionist imprisoned for his role in the October 1870 Paris uprising, just prior to the Paris Commune debacle of 1871. (Hertzler, pp. 188-9)
The most important influence upon the League of the Just seems to have been Wilhelm Weitling (1808-1871), a Catholic-school-educated German tailor who wrote Guarantee of Harmony and Freedom whom Karl Marx (1818-1883) initially appreciated, as he is mentioned in Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 as an “original German Socialist,” and in Marx’s Critical Marginal Notes (1844) where he refers to “Weitling’s brilliant writings.” However, Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) in his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880) relegates Weitling to the status of despised utopian socialist for his joining an intentional community in America.
Kenneth Rexroth writes in his 1974 book, Communalism, that “Weitling is too little regarded in the history of revolutionary thought. Quite independently of Hegel, and before Marx, he developed a theory of human self-alienation as the primary evil of capitalist production, and some years before Marx or Proudhon he was an avowed communist. In a sense, Marx and Engels joined his communist movement and took it over.” Weitling wrote his Guarantee of Harmony and Freedom in1842, while Marx published his The Communist Manifesto in 1848. Note that “self-alienation” is translated as “selfishness,” and is explained in the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel’s work. (Rexroth, p. 294, emphasis in the original; Tucker, pp. 66-68, 129, 693)
Wilhelm Weitling is a particularly interesting character as he bridges communism and communalism. Sometime between 1846 and 1850, Weitling arrived in New York City after being expelled from Switzerland for political activity, following the publication of his Guarantee of Harmony and Freedom in 1842. A branch of the League of the Just already existed in NYC when Weitling arrived, which he renamed “The Emancipation League” soon after the League in Europe changed its name to “The Communist League” in 1847. This was an “Arbeiterbund” or Working Men’s League, which grew to twenty chapters in Eastern U.S. cities. In the Leagues, “labour-tokens” were used in place of money for labor and commodity exchanges, and at the 1850 Worker’s Congress in Philadelphia a resolution was adopted for “urging the promotion of colonies,” or what is called today “intentional communities.” Weitling and other German radicals then joined a rural commune begun by experienced Swiss communalists in 1847 in Iowa, called “Communia.” Weitling was elected administrator of the colony, yet his autocratic rule led to disputes, a court case, and dissolution in1856. Weitling then returned to NYC where he invented a button-hole-attachment for sowing machines. (Fogarty, pp. 117-8; Morgan, 1944, p. 370)
Ironically, Wilhelm Weitling, one of the founders of European communism, a belief system taken over by those who were hostile to all forms of social innovations arising within communal and cooperative groups, himself actually joined a communal intentional community. In 1950 Carl Wittke wrote a biography of Weitling with the oxymoron title of, The Utopian Communist.
Paris had been a center of learning since at least the 13th century, and a center of radical thought since at least the early 18th century, many of the ideas of which the French monarchist authorities considered to be seditious; thus, driving them underground. In 1847 the League of the Just changed its name in order to use the new term coined in 1840 by French social reformers, becoming “The Communist League.” (Bestor, p. 279) This group commissioned their two new members, Karl Marx and his associate and benefactor Friedrich Engels, to write a manifesto for the group to introduce its new name. Both men authored submissions, and Marx’s called The Communist Manifesto (1848) was chosen. (Tucker, p. 469)
While Marx had earlier written in support of democracy and republicanism against oligarchy in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, he was apparently influenced by the radical, secret, workers’ societies and their anger toward the rich and powerful, causing him to go over to the “Darkside” of advocating violence as a strategy for revolution, as opposed to peaceful reform. In The Communist Manifesto Marx writes, “The immediate aim of the Communists is … formation of the proletariat (i.e., wage-laborers) into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois (i.e., employers of wage-labor) supremacy, [and] conquest of political power by the proletariat. … the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” (Tucker, pp. 484) While this goal has now been achieved by peaceful experimentation and gradual reform, that is not the method advocated by Marxist communism, which is made clear in the last paragraph of Marx’s Manifesto stating, “The Communists … openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at the Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!” (Tucker, p. 500)
In his 1872 speech titled The Possibility of Non-Violent Revolution Karl Marx only goes so far as to say, “we do not deny that there are countries—such as America, England, and … perhaps also add Holland—where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force …” (Tucker, p. 523) Friedrich Engels says essentially the same thing in his 1895 essay The Tactics of Social Democracy, in which he begins with an acceptance of the lesson of the Paris Commune that classic street-fighting on the barricades as a means of revolutionary class struggle is rendered obsolete by the advance of military technology, yet as Robert Tucker states, his “concluding discourse on tactics turns out to be by no means an endorsement of Social Democratic reformism.” (Tucker, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii)
Communist theory, as developed by Marx and Engels, affirmed two stages in the transition to a classless, free society, the first to be directed by a small vanguard, called the “Communist Party,” that would organize the overthrow of the state, whether monarchy, republic, or Weishaupt-like bourgeoisie, theoretically resulting in the second stage of Marxist communism of a classless society, and the subsequent withering-away in turn of the communist state itself. (Tucker, pp. 483-4) In all the attempts to enact this theory, no communist organization known to the present author has gotten to that ideal second stage, and no communist state has ever “withered away.” The best that Marx could do in describing the second “higher phase of communist society” was to present in his Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) Morelly’s Maxim of “From each according to ability, to each according to needs.” (Tucker, p. 531; see also: Hertzler, pp. 186-8; Durant & Durant, 1967, p. 81; Manuel & Manuel, pp. 707, 711, 715)
Not until the late 20th century would a non-monastic, communal society successfully create the dream of the second stage of Marxist communism, of the abolition of private-property in a common-property economy. The break-through was invented by Kathleen (Kat) Kinkade in 1967 at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, called by the present author the “vacation-credit labor system.” Following is that story.
LIVE FREE! Labor Is Valued Equally ● For Realizing Economic Equality
Morelly’s Maxim has been revised by the present author from the original emphasis upon the individual, as in “from each according to ability; to each according to need,” to an emphasis upon the group, in Allen’s Axiom of “from all according to intent; to all according to fairness.” Allen’s Axiom also replaces Adam Smith’s “law of supply and demand” printed in his 1776 publication The Wealth of Nations, with the “law of intent and fairness,” first printed in the present author’s 2007 self-published Gifting and Sharing: Living the Plenty Paradigm in Cohousing and Communal Society (pp. 31, 57), available from the author.
It had long been believed that to create economic justice a society had to do away with the use of money and private property internally and substitute something else. However, finding something which would substantially serve the ideal took about 140 years of intermittent experimentation. From the mid-1820s to the early 1830s the idea of a time-based exchange currency was developed in England, with the principle designer, or to use the present author’s term “intentioneer,” being the Welsh industrialist Robert Owen. Owen had earlier been influenced by Gerard Winstanley’s 1652 book The Law of Freedom, and the works of other writers, including descriptions of American communal societies like the Shakers (Separatist) from England and the Harmonists (Pietist) from Germany.
Robert Owen’s and others’ ideas resulted in giving workers a form of paper scrip, sometimes called “labor notes,” stating the amount of time the worker had contributed to the community, which were then redeemed in a community store for goods and services, essentially comprising an alternative exchange system to that of the official currency. The “labour theory of value” is explained by John Curl in his 2009 book For All the People, quoting Robert Owen’s 1821 community proposal called Report to the County of Lanark, in which Owen writes that, “the natural standard of value is, in principle, human labour.” (Curl, p. 37)
Donald Pitzer in his 1997 edited work, America’s Communal Utopias, writes that, “In Britain, workers’ cooperatives and trade unions originated in Owenite activity.” Pitzer explains that Friedrich Engels was a “critic of Owenite utopian and communitarian socialism … [who] conceded that ‘all social movements, all real advance made in England in the interests of the working class were associated with Owen’s name’.” (Pitzer, pp. 123, 133 n. 109; Engels, pp. 296-7; Tucker, p. 693)
It is thought that because of the social reforms involving economic cooperatives and communitarian experimentation, the countries that Marx listed in which “workers can attain their goal by peaceful means” like England, America, and perhaps Holland, were able to avoid the kinds of violent revolution experienced by many continental European industrializing countries, including: France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and others. Because communist theory embraces violent revolution Friedrich Engels wrote in his 1880 pamphlet titled Socialism: Utopian and Scientific a succession of slurs and attacks against communitarian movements, calling them “utopian socialism” as opposed to the “modern socialism” or “scientific socialism” of Marxist communism. (Tucker, pp. 683, 700-1) Engels’ criticisms of communitarian experiments and social reforms include calling them: “model experiments … foredoomed as Utopian,” “phantasies, which today only make us smile,” “eclectic, average socialism,” and “a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition …” (Tucker, pp. 687, 688, 693, 694) Thus, “utopian socialism,” now called “intentional community” was added to the list of enemies of communism, along with social reformers, democratic socialists, anarchists, and others.
Frank and Fritzie Manuel probably wrote the most detailed criticism of Marx’ and Engels’ hypocritical attitude toward those whom they labeled “utopian socialists” in their 1979 book, Utopian Thought in the Western World. Like the communitarian scholar and kibbutz member Yaacov Oved, the Manuel’s use the term “sneer” in describing Marx’ and Engels’ comments about the communitarians. Oved writes about Engels that, “He openly sneered at utopian experiments,” while the Manuels state that Engels’ writing titled in short, Anti-Duhring (1878) is, “spotted with similar sneers.” That is, sneers like calling communitarian settlements, “optimum little republics.” (Manuel & Manuel, p. 700; Oved, p. 428) Ironically, Marxist communism’s second stage of communism is itself utopian, attained only after the violence of the first stage. Communitarianism skips the violence to go directly to the ideal!
**End of Part 3 of 5**
Portions of this article were previously published in the author’s 2016 e-book The Intentioneer’s Bible
(see: Amazon.com), and other portions are to appear in the author’s forthcoming book.
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