The New International Encyclopædia/Communism

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COMMUNISM (Fr. communisme, from commun, joint, common, from Lat. communis, common). A system of society in which private property is abolished and all goods are held in common, the needs of each individual being supplied from public sources. It is unfortunate that no clear distinction is made between communism and socialism. The socialists are carrying on a political agitation which may or may not lead to communism. Communists usually in theory, always in practice, have withdrawn from the general life into separate communities and then followed their plans. It is probably correct to say that communism is the radical wing of socialism. Communism should not be confused with the so-called French Communists of 1871, who were seeking political changes in the communes.

A great deal of unwarranted reproach has been put upon communism either through ignorance or because of vagaries attached to many plans for its realization. It is really a reaction against the evils which have, hitherto, at least, always accompanied private property. In reality, too, it is older than the present system. All historical nations, so far as known, at one time held their land in common, the individual having only the use of a portion of it for a certain period. A survival still exists in the Russian Mir. Cultivated land seems first to have become private property, the meadows and forests remaining common.

In ancient Greece the evils of private property called forth many suggestions of another system. These were ridiculed in the popular comedies of the day. The most famous of the proposed systems is that made by Plato, in the Republic. Private property and private families are the chief influences tending to exalt the welfare of the individual over that of the State. Dispense with these, put men and women on equal footing, and let fitness be the test for positions. Let the children be educated by the State. Plato never conceived of a democracy. He could not conceive of a State without slaves; these formed the substratum of his Republic. Plato, however, appreciated that his plan was ideal and would not be realized. His scheme went contrary to the spirit of the times and aroused only discussion. The proposal for the abolition of the private family seems to coincide with the ideas of other writers. Turning from speculative Greece to Rome, we find no such ideal proposals. Individualism was too strongly intrenched.

In the East, however, there was a different spirit. In Palestine, the Essenes and Therapentæ held property in common, and Josephus (Antiq. xi., 8, 3) says that one joining the Essenes had to surrender his private property. Much is said about the communism of the early Christians. A certain degree of it existed, but it seems to have been purely voluntary, many Christians retaining their private property. In any case, the institution did not long endure. The ascetic tendencies which often manifested themselves in communistic forms among heretical and orthodox sects were introduced into the West from the East. The Manichæans believed that matter was evil. Before an inquisition at Turin in 1030 a heretic declared: “We hold all our goods in common with all men.” Other heretical sects, the Catharists (eleventh century) and the Apostles (thirteenth century), held similar views. The Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit held that, before the Fall, men were like God, that Paradise must be reintroduced with community of goods and of women. Many evil stories are told of their proceedings, and they were opposed by the Inquisition, but spread in secret during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. With these may be compared the Adamites of the fifteenth century. The great monastic orders bear close resemblance in their common property.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Taborites (Hussites), the Moravians, and the Anabaptists arose and flourished in succession in central Europe. (For detailed descriptions, the reader is referred to separate articles under these heads.) The teachings of the Anabaptists (q.v.) were embodied, in Thuringia, in a popular movement to realize a State without government, law, or property, each to receive according to need, ‘omnia simul communia.’ This and the attempt at Münster to establish the new Zion were forcibly put down. As it was impossible to establish communities in secret, efforts were directed toward marriage reform. These naturally led to opposition and suppression. All of these plans grew out of, or were impelled by, distorted religious conceptions. As moral and religious movements they must be judged rather than as economic undertakings. They were overthrown by religious opposition. They had no chance to demonstrate the practicability or possibility of their proposed life.

In the next era we find a group of dreamers, theorists who prophesied a better system to supplant the present, which they felt to be unjust, How far these writers believed their systems could be realized in the near future is a question. Most of them rather try to portray the ultimate form which society shall assume. Some, however, have tried honestly and earnestly to realize their aspirations. However impracticable and visionary their proposals may seem, they are proposals, not of self-seekers, but of those who have the welfare of society at heart. As such they merit consideration.

The opening up of America made possible genuine attempts to found communistic settlements which should not be overthrown by sectarianism, but should have abundant opportunity under favorable conditions to prove or disprove their fitness to exist. Most have failed, and the reasons are usually plain. Mismanagement being left out of consideration, society cannot found itself upon such a basis as celibacy, nor, on the other hand, upon ‘free love.’ Nor does it seem likely that society will be regenerated by groups who isolate themselves from the common life. The strength and dignity of the life of some of the communities may well, however, stimulate all men to renewed efforts to realize the best for themselves and society.

The Utopists. The publication of Utopia by Sir Thomas More (1516) introduced a new element. He wished nothing of an ascetic nature, but sought a fuller and freer expression of life. His book arose from the economic changes taking place in England. The introduction of sheep-raising was destroying the small farms and bringing much suffering to the peasants. More, influenced by Plato, proposed to retain slavery, the slaves being chiefly convicted criminals. There should be community of goods; every one should be supplied from the State storehouses. Monogamy is prescribed, and the greatest freedom allowed the individual families. Men and women are to work six hours per day. The title ‘Utopia’ has given the name to all such proposals. More has been followed by many writers. Campanella (Civitas Solis, Frankfort, 1623) advocated community of goods and of women with universal duty to labor four hours a day, each person to be provided according to need. Vairasse (Histoire des Sererambes, 1677) proposed an eight-hour working day. Among the most interesting Utopistic efforts is the charming story by Cabet, Voyage in Icarie Paris, 1842), in which monogamy is preserved, each person working according to ability and receiving an equal reward. Cabet's pathetic attempts to realize his dreams will be mentioned later. Bellamy (Looking Backward, Boston, 1888) advocated wages in the form of anmial credits at the public warehouse, at which goods are sold according to the quantity of labor required in their production. Hertzka (Freiland, Leipzig, 1890) and Sheldon (In His Steps, Topeka, 1899) may also be classed here.

In the meantime there arose many critics of existing conditions who proposed communistic remedies. Meslier (1664-1792) in his Testament, first published in Amsterdam in 1864, viewed society as a product of force and its evils as the results, largely, of private property. The various parishes should form large families bound mutually to assist each other; each individual to have according to his needs. Morelly (Code de la Nature, Paris, 1755) advocated communities of about 1000 persons with common goods and distribution according to need.

These and other men found little acceptance, but the reaction of the French Revolution brought results. Saint-Simon, whose influence was in his personality rather than his writings, proclaimed the control of the ‘Industrielles.’ Property reform did not greatly concern him. His system was to be religious and moral, a ‘new Christianity.’ The occupation of each person was to be decided by the directing authority, the remuneration to be by salary proportioned to merits of the work and the individual. (See Saint-Simon.) Of the French communists, Charles Fourier (q.v.) probably had the greatest influence. He did not advocate abolition of private property, but believed in associations of 2000 people who should live in a ‘Phalanx,’ work and consume in common so far as pleased them, but who were by no means to be equally interested financially or to share equally in proceeds. Strictly speaking, Fourier's scheme might be called a coöperative corporation save for its features of common life. Buchez (1831) advised that laborers save enough to start productive associations. Louis Blanc developed this idea, saying that the State should assist the laborers in founding ‘ateliers sociaux.’ These would gradually overcome the capitalistic system and lead to communism.

At this time, in England, Robert Owen had become very prominent by his works and his teachings. Owen came to his ideas not by way of mere speculation, but felt himself driven by the logic of the situation in which he found himself. He was a successful manufacturer interested in his employees. He finally advocated the forming of groups of from 500 to 1000 persons, who should provide themselves all the necessaries of life. The members should live in great houses surrounded by gardens, and all artificial distinctions between men should be thrown down. Such colonies would prove so attractive that the existing industrial system would break down because of the desertion of the workmen. In 1819 it was attempted to start such a colony at Motherwell, but the funds were not sufficient. In 1824 Owen came to America, where his presence did much to start a wave of communistic thought, and where some twelve colonies were planted, none of which lasted more than a few years. During his absence (1826) some of his friends purchased 291 acres of land at Orbiston, near Glasgow, and built a large building in which all should live, each sharing in the division according to his labors. The death of one of the founders, with other difficulties, brought an end to the plan. Similar colonies at Rahaline in the thirties and Queenswood (1841) likewise failed, the latter after five years' existence. Owen's attempts to realize communism were not successes; he did succeed, however, in establishing coöperation. (See Owen, Robert.) Other notable attempts along the same line were made in England by Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes, to whose biographical notices in this work the reader is referred.

Communism in America. The centre of interest in communism is henceforth in America. One of the provisions in the ‘oldest American charter’ (1606) was that there should be a common storehouse in which the products should be kept, and from which each should receive according to his needs. Jamestown lived under this scheme for five years, the idlers giving Capt. John Smith much trouble meantime. The Pilgrims had similar arrangements, which were soon changed, but for a long time much land was held in common. Of this custom Boston Common is a survival. These arrangements were but temporary, however. In 1774, driven by religious opposition, ‘Mother Ann Lee’ came from England with a small company of Quakers, who were called Shaking Quakers because of certain physical movements in religious exercises. The name was soon shortened to Shakers. They settled at Watervliet, near Albany, N. Y. Mother Ann died in 1784. In 1787 a covenant was adopted establishing celibacy and community of goods. Their communism grew out of their religion. Christianity, they say, does not admit of divisions into rich and poor; ‘mine’ becomes ‘ours,’ and riches and poverty, with their misery, disappear. The Shakers have lived happily and contentedly and have had great material prosperity. Says Professor Ely: “Economically the Shakers have been a great success.” They have now some seventeen societies in different States, the largest being at Mount Lebanon, N. Y. They own some very valuable property. (See Shakers.) The Harmonists, or Separatists, as they were called in Germany, left the Fatherland because of sectarian opposition and settled in 1805 at Harmony, Pa., under the leadership of George Rapp. They, too, have been very successful financially. At one time they had a thousand members, but now only forty or fifty remain. They are obliged to employ outsiders to carry on their enterprises, so that they have practically become a close corporation. See Harmonists.

The Amana Community of seven villages in Iowa was founded by another German sect, the Inspirationists, who settled near Buffalo, N. Y., in 1842, moving to Iowa in 1855. Religion is the primary thing. Yet they have prospered and possess fertile and well-improved lands. They number 1800 or more. Marriage is permitted. In 1844 yet another German sect settled at Bethel, Mo., moving later to Aurora, Ore. They have been fairly successful. (See Amana.) The French in 1848 under Cabet, who tried to establish Icaria, were not successful. After many discouragements and disappointments they were finally settled in Iowa. Trouble followed trouble, and the end came in 1895. See Icarians.

All of these communities were started by foreigners, though most of the Shakers have been Americans. An American colony of some fifty members was started by John Humphrey Noyes in 1847 at Oneida, N. Y. Later a small branch was established at Wallingford, Conn. They believed in freedom from sin and were called Perfectionists (q.v.). Between 1840 and 1850, under the leadership of Albert Brisbane, Horace Greeley, Charles A. Dana, and others. Fourierism spread over the country, Greeley advocating it in the New York Tribune. Some thirty-four ‘phalanxes’ were started in various places, most of which were short-lived. The most famous was Brook Farm (q.v.), near Boston, which began as a coöperative school. The North American Phalanx, in Monmouth County, N. J., was the most successful, lasting some twelve years (1843-56). Ripon, Wis., dates back to the Wisconsin Phalanx of 1844. This association paid $1.08 on the dollar when it dissolved. The movement gradually subsided.

In recent years a number of attempts to found communistic settlements have been made, but they have broken down largely because of internal dissensions. Among these may be mentioned Kaweah, in California (1884); Topolobampo, Mexico (1886); and the Ruskin Coöperative Colony, in Tennessee (1893). The only recent European settlement was an attempt in 1895 to realize the ideals of Hertzka's ‘Freiland’ in Africa. The reason for the failure of many of these enterprises is not far to seek. Lack of unity of purpose and unwise management bring sure destruction. Fourierism was a compromise. It retained gross inequalities while condemning those of the world. It was not a unifying principle. On the other hand, those which have succeeded have possessed just this unity — usually in adherence to some social or religious ideal which has made the interests of the individual the interests of the group. That material prosperity has accompanied this unity history clearly shows. The social life of the Shakers and of the Amana Community has always deeply impressed the visitor from the outside world. Howells in his Undiscovered Country tells of their life and makes one of his characters say, “They're what they seem; that's their great ambition.” In his autobiography, Horace Greeley wrote of the Shakers: “No one will pretend that they have failed. No; they have steadily and eminently expanded and increased in wealth and every element of material prosperity, until they are at this day just objects of envy to their neighbors. They produce no paupers; they excrete no beggars; they have no idlers, rich or poor; no purse-proud nabobs, no cringing slaves. If there were no other success akin to theirs — but there is — it would still be a demonstrated truth that men and women can live and labor for general, not selfish, good — can banish pauperism, servitude, and idleness, and secure general thrift and plenty by moderate coöperative labor and a complete identity of interests.” No more fair and judicial view of communism has been presented than John Stuart Mill gives in his Principles of Political Economy. Mill recognizes the evils of private property and the desirability of remedying them. He notices the difficulties of communism, that men would evade work, that it would be hard to make a fair distribution of work. He raises the question as to whether communism gives greater freedom and liberty to the individual. The statement is summed up in: “It is yet to be ascertained whether the communistic scheme would be consistent with that multiform development of human nature, those manifold unlikenesses, that diversity of tasks and talents and variety of intellectual views which not only form a great part of the interest of human life, but by bringing intellects into a stimulating collision, and by presenting to each innumerable notions that he would not have conceived of himself, are the mainspring of mental and moral progression.”

The experience of the last century is of great value. The social and economic fruits endure though the individual communities have gone. The questions of Mill have not all been answered in the affirmative nor yet in the negative. Most of the features of many of the experiments to which exception is taken — free love, celibacy, and the like — are not essential features. Private property has its evils, but it has been a powerful incentive to progress. Will communism give an equal incentive without the evils? The tendency to-day is away from the formation of isolated groups. In the middle of the last century many able and intelligent men thought to reform the world in a few years. Cabet allowed fifty years for a preparation — then complete communism. Such dreams have largely vanished. The settlements have seemed to furnish little ‘scope for ambition, and ambition is one of the chief traits of mankind.’ The socialists and all who may hope for communism are now seeking it by the way of gradual political reform. In summing up American communism, Professor Ely says: “It has accomplished much good and little harm. Its leaders have been actuated by noble motives, have many times been men far above their fellows in moral stature, even in intellectual stature, and have desired only to benefit their kind. Its aim has been to elevate man and its ways have been ways of peace.”

Bibliography: Consult: Kautsky, Communism in Central Europe at the Time of the Reformation (London, 1897); Kleinächter, Die Staatsromane (Vienna, 1891); Stammhammer, Bibliographie des Socialismus und Kommunismus (Jena, 1893-99); Stegman-Hugo, Handhuch des Sozialismus (Zurich, 1897); Ely, French and German Socialism (New York, 1883); Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States (New York, 1875); Ely, The Labor Movement in America (2d ed. New York, 1890); Noyes, History of American Socialism (Philadelphia, 1869); Shaw, Icaria (New York, 1884). See Socialism.